7 tips to support your mental health as a young entrepreneur

You know that marketing plan you just can’t seem to finish? Or your inability to get a good night’s sleep, or that ongoing, low-grade headache you can’t seem to shake? Those are all very common signs of stress.

There was a time when entrepreneurs of any age avoided speaking about their mental health issues due to a very real stigma. Today, thanks to the willingness of young entrepreneurs to talk and share openly, the topic is slowly becoming front-and-centre at startup networking events, business conferences, on entrepreneur-related blogs, and across social media. Today, most governments, organizations and small businesses recognize stress and anxiety are mental health issues. They exist in every area of business, impact bottom lines and affect people’s quality of life.

Yet, according to a 2023 study conducted by our partner, Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Canada’s only bank exclusively devoted to entrepreneurs, specifically, young business owners experience more mental health challenges than others — and they’re less likely to access support. Of even more concern, the study showed the mental health of many young entrepreneurs declined significantly year over year.

Good stress vs. bad stress

Not all stress is bad. In many cases, acute (short-term) stress can inspire, motivate and help us focus our energy and enhance our performance. But it can be challenging to pinpoint concrete causes of good or bad stress because everyone has a different stress threshold and response. 

For example, a new plan to expand your small business might mean extreme stress for you, while another may look at it as an exciting opportunity. Planning a business development event could cause one person “bad” stress while another enjoys the rush and finds the “good” stress inspiring and motivating.

Chronic stress — in some cases, even of the positive kind — can negatively impact your physical and mental health. Here are seven ways you can reduce your stress and protect your mental health so you can enjoy — not dread — navigating your startup journey.

1. Take more (or at least a few) breaks

Many young entrepreneurs are reluctant to take even one day away from their businesses, but regular breaks are vital for your mental health, even if you’re not necessarily feeling stressed. Your body is designed to respond to short bursts of good stress — but even good stress, when prolonged, can become chronic and unhealthy.

If a full-blown vacation isn’t possible, a staycation can do the trick — engage in some self-care, meet friends for lunch, spend time outside or binge-watch movies. When you’re taking a break, turn off your notifications or better yet, ignore business emails, and leave your laptop behind where possible — it’s not a true break if you’re spending time thinking about work.

2. Take care of your physical health

Regular exercise is a great way to let off steam, clear your head and improve your mood. Throughout the day, strive to move your body at least once an hour — take a short walk, do some yoga or dance around the house or office to your favourite tunes. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.

A healthy diet is also good for your mental health. Consider weekly meal prepping to get ahead of the “what’s for dinner” game, which is a real source of stress — and fast-food binges — for many. For some tips and inspo, check out these meal-prep YouTube videos

Finally, get ample sleep, which is essential for optimal physical and mental health — and a better mood. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day to help your mind and body get into a solid sleep routine.

3. Shift your mindset

A healthy perspective can help reduce your stress. Start by acknowledging your accomplishments, and work to keep your perfectionist tendencies in check. Reframe negative experiences to find the opportunities in them. If you have the bandwidth or financial wherewithal, consider cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or free resources like those offered by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)

If you’re stuck in a dark place, plant yourself in the present moment — pet the dog, hug the kids or indulge in a really great cup of coffee to help lighten your mood. Practice daily gratitude to help shift your mindset to one of abundance. Consider starting a gratitude journal, in which you list the things you feel gratitude for. You’ll find there are no shortage of ways or tools you can use to help you get yours going. 

4. Don’t go it alone

Feelings of isolation contribute to stress for entrepreneurs, and nurturing your relationships with friends and family can help ensure you have someone to talk to about both business and personal issues. Be realistic about what you need to handle personally, and in business, and delegate tasks to your staff or external contractors where feasible.

5. Talk about it

It’s important as a young entrepreneur to speak honestly about your struggles. If someone asks, “How are you doing?” (and really wants to know), it’s okay to say, “Not so great.” As the saying goes, it’s okay to not be okay. 

If you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to, candidly, this is another instance where you may want to consider online therapy — especially during periods of high stress. Executive coaching can also be a great way to get support on your entrepreneurial journey.

6. Join a support group

If you’re feeling the stress of running a business or you lack work-life balance, you can be sure there are other young entrepreneurs who feel the same way.

Look for groups who gather in your area to discuss similar issues and solutions. They don’t have to specifically be support groups. Networking groups that meet regularly can also help you cultivate relationships with other entrepreneurs and provide you with opportunities for helpful discussions and interactions. Talking to your peers who may be facing similar challenges or problems to you can be powerful and difference-making.

Not ready to speak your truth in person? You can look online for support groups made up of others feeling the pressures of being a young entrepreneur.

7. Ask for financial help and advice

Money is a major stressor for any entrepreneur. If you’re experiencing challenges with cash flow, revenue generation or your supply chain, there may be ways your suppliers, lenders and ecosystem can help — but you won’t find out unless you ask.

Your lenders may suggest solutions that you had no idea were even options, including restructuring loans, deferring payments, delaying shipments or financing purchase orders. For example, during the 2023 summer wildfires, which affected small businesses across Canada, here at Futurpreneur, we provided relief programs to entrepreneurs who were affected, either directly or through their supply chain. It’s always worth exploring how your ecosystem can support you through tough times.

Empowering women entrepreneurs in Canada: Futurpreneur’s inclusive leadership makes a difference

In Canada, women entrepreneurs can face significant challenges in navigating the entrepreneurial landscape. According to The State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada 2023 report produced by The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH), only 18 per cent of businesses in Canada are majority-owned by women. This has wide-ranging implications on Canadian women, whether they are entrepreneurs or not, because small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for almost 90 per cent of private sector employment in Canada. 

The WEKH report told a story of challenges and opportunities when it comes to the state of women’s entrepreneurship in this country. It stated that women-owned businesses are a growing proportion of Canadian businesses in spite of the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a majority of women-owned SMEs in Canada have lower rates of survival compared to majority men-owned SMEs.

Meanwhile, the report highlighted how women-owned small businesses also tend to focus on inclusivity by providing opportunities for equity-deserving groups such as women, Indigenous Peoples, Black and racialized people, and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

Another insight coming out of the report? Canadian women entrepreneurs tend to be concentrated in some sectors and under-represented in others. For example, the majority of women-owned SMEs operate in the service sector.   

Despite the real challenges and systemic barriers faced by Canadian women entrepreneurs, Futurpreneur recognizes the immense potential for growth and success among women startup founders across the country, and how they meaningfully contribute to Canada’s inclusive prosperity. 

Through our work empowering young women entrepreneurs in every part of Canada, we witness firsthand the determination, creativity and resilience that define women in Canadian business. By providing support, mentorship and resources, we aim to unlock the full potential of women entrepreneurs and create a more equitable and inclusive entrepreneurial landscape where all aspiring business owners can thrive. Futurpreneur is committed to providing the support they need to succeed. 

Futurpreneur sees the power of women entrepreneurs in Canada 

We believe there are many reasons to feel optimistic about the potential of women entrepreneurs in Canada, because we see them thriving when the right supports are in place. 

Empowering more women entrepreneurs across the country 

At Futurpreneur, 44 per cent of the businesses we support are women-owned, which is 2.4 times the Canadian average. This statistic underscores the impact of our financing, mentorship and business resources in enabling women entrepreneurs to thrive despite challenging entrepreneurial conditions. 

Commitment to inclusive leadership 

Two-thirds of Futurpreneur’s senior leadership team is made up of women, and across the organization, including our program teams and business development staff, women also represent two-thirds of Futurpreneur as a whole. We believe this lived experience matters, and when women support other women entrepreneurs, the results can be transformative, leading to more women succeeding across the Canadian entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Inspiring success stories 

Futurpreneur-supported women entrepreneurs exemplify the outsized impact Canadian founders can have on a global stage.  

Trailblazing founders like Joanna Griffiths, CEO of Knix, Noura Sakkijha, CEO of Mejuri, Shelby Taylor, CEO of Chickapea and Tara Bosch, CEO of SmartSweets, are testaments to this. Each received funding from Futurpreneur in the early stages of their businesses and have since made significant contributions to their industries. Their success stories inspire others and demonstrate the potential for women entrepreneurs to thrive in Canada. They represent just a fraction of the more than 7,000 women entrepreneurs supported by Futurpreneur since our founding in 1996, and also highlight what’s possible when women entrepreneurs receive the right early-stage financing, support and mentorship. 

Futurpreneur remains committed to empowering Canadian women entrepreneurs through our comprehensive programs, including supporting women in equity-deserving communities through our Black Entrepreneur and Indigenous Entrepreneur Startup Programs. Notably, over half of Futurpreneur-supported businesses with Black or Indigenous founders are women-led. This is well above the average in those communities.  

By providing financial support, mentorship and opportunities for growth, we aim to create a more inclusive and equitable entrepreneurial landscape where women entrepreneurs can thrive, even through challenging economic conditions. 

Together, and alongside our partners, we can drive positive change and build a brighter future for women entrepreneurs in Canada.  

Contact us today to see how our team can help you on your entrepreneurial journey. 

“You can kick a** with [some] help”: Five entrepreneurship lessons from Debbie Shing and Ashwini Bhaskar

During Small Business Week 2023, Shing and Bhaskar served as panelists for a virtual event co-hosted by Futurpreneur and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) 

Small Business Week in Canada brings together entrepreneurs and business leaders, from across the country, for insightful, candid conversations on entrepreneurship.  

Futurpreneur Debbie Shing (pictured) shared her remarkable entrepreneurial journey at one of these events entitled “Elevate Your Entrepreneurship Skills: A Fireside Chat.” Shing is founder of Quvé Group, a progressive-minded Canadian wine agency serving clients across the country. She was an event panelist alongside her Futurpreneur mentor, Ashwini Bhaskar, a business technology leader and experienced entrepreneur. The panel was co-hosted by Futurpreneur’s Corinne Lau, Vice President, Client and Mentoring Experience and David Girolami, BDC Senior Business Advisor. 

Debbie credits Futurpreneur’s support and Ashwini’s mentorship as key drivers in Quvé’s growth and her own success. 

Her entrepreneurial success story is not only inspiring but also packed with ups, downs and valuable insights for aspiring business owners. Most importantly? You don’t need to go it alone.  

Here are five key lessons we can learn from Debbie’s experiences: 

  1. Balance planning and execution

Debbie emphasizes the importance of finding equilibrium between planning and execution in entrepreneurship. She believes that dedicating an equal amount of time to both aspects is crucial. As she puts it, “You can kick-ass with [some] help.” This lesson reminds us that while taking action is vital, thoughtful planning and strategy are equally necessary for long-term success. 

  1. Embrace creativity in problem-solving

Debbie describes entrepreneurship as an “Olympic-level,” hurdle race. To succeed, you must be prepared to overcome challenges with creativity. For instance, when Debbie launched Quvé Group during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she showcased her adaptability by forming creative partnerships to navigate the challenges posed by restaurant closures. This lesson encourages us to view obstacles as opportunities and think outside the box when solving problems.

WATCH: You can revisit the entrepreneurial lessons from “Elevate Your Entrepreneurship: A Fireside Chat”. Click here to watch the full video. May require BDC registration. 

  1. Live by your core values

Debbie underscores that her core values serve as the driving force behind her actions in her business. Your core values can guide you in making decisions that align with your vision and purpose. In entrepreneurship, staying true to your core values can help you maintain your focus and integrity as you navigate the business world. 

  1. Build a network of advisors

Debbie has developed a network of advisors, both formal and informal, Ashwini chief among them. The two connected through the Futurpreneur mentorship program. Ashwini continues to provide Debbie with valuable counsel when facing difficult decisions. It’s important to look for advisors with industry knowledge, a proven track record, shared values and a passion for supporting young entrepreneurs and seeing others succeed. Debbie’s network serves as a sounding board and a source of wisdom. The lesson here is to nurture relationships and rely on your connections when making important choices in your entrepreneurial journey.  

  1. Delegate and invest in your growth

Finally, Debbie shares another valuable lesson: just like dating, you should look for people who share your values. When considering hiring and delegating business responsibilities, assess if you can afford to do so and how it can contribute to your own and your business’ growth. She suggests exploring grant programs as a way to compensate potential employees and enable you to focus on your core strengths. This lesson reminds us that delegation and strategic hiring can fuel business growth. 

Bonus lesson: Continuous learning 

Debbie highlights the importance of learning and facing the things that are most challenging to you. In her case, these were tasks like cash-flow statements and sales projections. She advises entrepreneurs to take the time for regular self-reflection on areas for personal growth. Recognizing the significance of your own role in your business’s success is key. The journey of entrepreneurship is an ongoing learning experience, and embracing this aspect can lead to continuous improvement. 

Balancing planning and execution, embracing creativity, upholding core values, building a network of advisors and strategic delegation have all served as critical elements on Debbie’s path to entrepreneurial success. Her journey serves as a testament to the potential of small businesses in Canada, and how, with the right supports, young entrepreneurs can reach their business dreams.
 

Read BDC’s report “Entrepreneurship in Motion: Skills to Succeed in a Changing World” to learn about valuable entrepreneurship skills. 

Learn more about how Futurpreneur can support your entrepreneurial dreams. 

Futurpreneur’s Impact in Action: Young Entrepreneurs Shine on Parliament Hill

On September 18, we brought together an extraordinary group of diverse young entrepreneurs from across the country to spend the day with us at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. We did this to celebrate the resilience and success of Futurpreneur-supported entrepreneurs across Canada amid Parliament’s return for the fall session. Our Hill Day culminated with the ‘Welcome Back to Ottawa’ Reception where members of Parliament (MPs), government representatives, partners and staff connected with our Futurpreneurs. The evening was a testament to the vibrancy of Canada’s entrepreneurial spirit and the impact of Futurpreneurs in their communities across the country.

Standing: Mary Oliveira, Alex Carnio, Margarettha Pierre, Jon Piett, Sean Rayland-Boubar, Sheena Brady
Sitting: Nicholas LaValle, Debbie Shing, Elizabeth Mok, Christopher Mack
Photo by Thierry Sanon

Meeting Trailblazing Futurpreneurs

Our day began with an opportunity for our young entrepreneurs to connect with our team, including Futurpreneur senior leadership— exchanging insights and engaging with each other. Energized by these conversations, everyone embarked on a journey to the tour of Parliament that included a 360° multimedia exhibit offering a glimpse of the sections of the building currently under renovation.

Our day began with an opportunity for our young entrepreneurs to connect with our team, including Futurpreneur senior leadership— exchanging insights and engaging with each other. Energized by these conversations, everyone embarked on a journey to the tour of Parliament that included a 360° multimedia exhibit offering a glimpse of the sections of the building currently under renovation.

Parliament’s Shoutout to Futurpreneur

One of the highlights of our Hill Day experience was our visit to the House of Commons for Question Period. It was here that MP Darren Fisher gave a heartfelt shoutout to Futurpreneur, emphasizing our vital role in supporting young entrepreneurs and recognizing the profound influence we’ve had on fostering inclusive economic prosperity across Canada. We were honoured to be recognized by MP Fisher as well as many of our elected officials who work tirelessly with us to make a positive impact in our communities. 

MP Fisher also recognized one of our Futurpreneurs based in his riding: Nicholas LaValle, the founder of Clean Valley CIC. His innovative work in clean technology and biofiltration earned him well-deserved recognition from those in attendance in the House.

A Showcase of Ambition and Innovation

As we kicked off our Hill Day Reception at the Wellington Building, hosted by The Honourable Rechie Valdez, Minister of Small Business and The Honourable Minister Mary Ng, Minister of Export Promotion, International Trade and Economic Development, the spotlight continued to shine on the incredible entrepreneurs who joined us in Ottawa. They shared their inspiring stories and the fruits of their labour with policymakers, providing a captivating glimpse into the remarkable businesses they’ve built.  

MPs and staffers attending the reception engaged with entrepreneurs, delving deeper into their journeys to success. They also learned about how Futurpreneur played a pivotal role in supporting these entrepreneurs during the critical early stages of their businesses, from inception to overcoming the challenges of startup life. 

The evening was an interactive experience as attendees had the pleasure of learning about and savouring products from these dynamic businesses, each offering a unique flavour of innovation. Among the offerings were:

  • Fine Chocolates: Mary Oliveira, from Toronto, the founder of Mary’s Brigadeiro, treated our taste buds with exquisite Brazilian chocolates.
  • Decadent Ice Cream: Elizabeth Sin Yung Mok, the creative mind behind Ottawa’s Moo Shu Ice Cream, introduced us to her imaginative flavours.
  • Artisanal Tea Blends: Sheena Brady, the entrepreneur behind Ottawa-based Tease, invited attendees to explore her curated wellness tea blends.
  • Fine Wines: Debbie Shing, founder of Toronto-based Quvé, showcased the flavours of her fine wines, a testament to her passion for viticulture.
  • Urban Streetwear: Sean Rayland, the founder of Red Rebel Armour, brought a touch of urban fashion to the event, sharing his Winnipeg-based company’s social mission to create employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated Indigenous people to help them transform their lives for the better.
  • Innovative Sleep Solutions: Jon Piett, from Saskatoon, the visionary behind LOTUS, presented his sleep company, demonstrating how innovation can contribute to a good night’s sleep.
  • Clean Energy: Nicholas LaValle, the founder of Clean Valley CIC, based in Dartmouth, introduced the audience to his clean energy solutions, emphasizing the importance of sustainability.
  • Healthcare Innovation: Margarettha Pierre, the founder of KnowMediQ, based in Montréal, unveiled her one-stop-shop for personalized healthcare services, promising a brighter future for the industry.

Celebrating Young Entrepreneurs

Karen Greve Young. Photo by Thierry Sanon.

Our evening unfolded with a series of truly inspirational speeches. Karen Greve Young, CEO of Futurpreneur, expressed her gratitude to longstanding partners including the Government of Canada, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), and spoke passionately about the achievements of our young entrepreneurs across Canada. 

Minister of Small Business, Rechie Valdez, an entrepreneur herself, commended the impact of Futurpreneur on Canada’s economy. During her address, she emphasized the importance of supporting young entrepreneurs as a catalyst for driving economic growth.

Joanna Griffiths. Photo by Thierry Sanon.

Joanna Griffiths, Founder and President of Knix embarked on her entrepreneurial journey with the support of Futurpreneur and has since become a dedicated member of the Futurpreneur Board. During her inspiring address, she candidly shared her personal experience and praised the exceptional level of care and commitment that sets Futurpreneur apart.  

Joanna remarked, “There really is nothing like Futurpreneur in Canada. Part of the reason why I wanted to join the board was to give back all the help and support that I received. In my opinion, there’s no better way to have an impact on entrepreneurship in this country than by partnering with Futurpreneur.”

Making a Difference

The evening also featured inspiring messages from the leaders of Futurpreneur’s tailored loan & mentorship programs: Black Entrepreneur Startup Program and Indigenous Entrepreneur Startup Program

Holly Atjecoutay and Mona-Lisa Prosper. Photo by Thierry Sanon.

Mona-Lisa Prosper, Director of the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program (BESP) highlighted Futurpreneur’s commitment to addressing the specific barriers faced by Black entrepreneurs in Canada. She explained, “We have adapted our core offering by being more inclusive in regard to credit, and we also provide follow-on financing, to help entrepreneurs start and scale their businesses.” 

Holly Atjecoutay, Director of the Indigenous Entrepreneur Startup Program (IESP) emphasized Futurpreneur’s deep respect for and understanding of Indigenous voices and their remarkable resilience. Holly noted, “One major element that sets Futurpreneur apart is that we’re one of the only organizations in this country that offers on-reserve lending within our ecosystem.” She also highlighted how this program is driven by collaboration, co-creation and representation of the vast and diverse Indigenous population across Canada. 

Attendees experienced a firsthand glimpse into the impact of the IESP through a short documentary highlighting Sean Rayland-Boubar’s transformative journey within our program.

Empowering Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Futurpreneur’s Hill Day Reception went beyond celebrating the success of young entrepreneurs. It was our moment to illuminate the vital role of Federal Government investment in empowering Futurpreneur’s work to shape a more inclusive and prosperous economy for young entrepreneurs nationwide. The Government of Canada’s longstanding commitment has been instrumental in enabling Futurpreneur to reach more diverse young entrepreneurs, equipping them with the money, mentorship and tools they need to start and succeed. 

We are grateful for all who attended, and we are moved by the overwhelming response to this event, both in person and online. Here are some of the wonderful posts that beautifully capture the essence of our Hill Day experience:

Pride in Business: Celebrating Successful Entrepreneurs from the 2SLGTBQIA+ Community

We take great pride in being the only national non-profit organization in Canada that provides financing, mentorship, and resources to entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 39. What’s equally important to us is our commitment to supporting young entrepreneurs from the 2SLGBTQIA+ community as they embark on their journey in the business world.

Our utmost priority is to create a safe and inclusive environment for all aspiring entrepreneurs. We want you to feel comfortable and free to express yourself as you launch or acquire your small business while working with us.

This commitment extends to our dedicated team. Currently, 6% of our entire staff and 13% of our senior leadership team identify as 2SLGBTQIA+. We believe in fostering diversity, equity and inclusion within our organization and beyond.

We collaborate with regional and national partners such as Canada’s 2SLGBTQI+ Chamber of Commerce that provide additional support to the community.

In celebration of Pride Month, we sat down with Futurpreneur-supported 2SLGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs across Canada who shared their inspirations, challenges, and valuable insights from their remarkable journeys as business owners

What inspired you to start your business?? 

Steph McNair (Maneland Hair, Dartmouth, NS) 

I was inspired by my community – I was aware of the lack of representation in the beauty industry and was compelled to create a queer-owned safe space.

Steph McNair Photo credit: Ryan Tobin Photography

Alana Fiks (Black Market Provisions, Winnipeg, MB)

Black Market Provisions was inspired by our love for food. Ange (Farkas, co-owner) is a Red Seal Chef, and our relationship has always been rooted in food. We started Pop Cart in 2015 to dip our toes into the world of food entrepreneurship and chipped away at our ultimate dream of opening a shop. 

Angela Farkas (left) & Alana Fiks (right) Photo credit: 1812 Photography

Paulo Trindade (Paulo’s Cake Shop, Toronto, ON)  

The inspiration was and is always about people – bringing a unique cake experience to our customers, and bringing prosperity to the lives of the people involved in the business.

Paulo Trindade Photo Credit: Rebel Howl Studios

Shawn Raymond (Shawn R Training, Leduc, AB)  

I’m in love with what we, as humans, can do when we put our mind to being a better version of ourselves. I wanted to help make people feel more confident in finding their own balance — a consistent juggling act of mental, physical, nutritional, and spiritual/energetic well-being.

Shawn Raymond Photo Credit: Market House Ltd.

Olga Vernev (Great Canadian Dog Cakes, Vancouver, BC) 

When the pandemic struck, we realized that as newcomers, we were vulnerable and needed a strategy to protect our lives from being disrupted. Due to our dog’s health issues, we began feeding him exclusively homemade food, which also proved popular with other dogs in the neighborhood. With the support of Futurpreneur, this eventually blossomed into a thriving business. 

Natasha Vernev (left) & Olga Vernev (right) Photo Credit: Allister Foster

Who is your target audience?

Steph: Maneland is unique in that it is specifically geared towards the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. The primary focus is creating a space where that community is listened to, valued, respected, and cared for.

Alana: Our clientele ranges through all ages, genders, and walks of life — the common thread being they all want quality food and fun, interesting gifts!

Shawn: My target audience is the individual who is trying to be just 1% better as a human in one of the main areas I work in as a certified CSEP-CPT: Mental, physical, and nutritional health and well-being. 

Olga: People who treat dogs as members of their family. Our own dog ran away from Russia with us, even though many people around us considered it reckless. We genuinely believe that dogs deserve the same pleasures as we do (with special considerations for their health). 

Paulo: Our audience is someone who is looking for a fresh unique cake or dessert and does not have time to pre order. We bring the freshness to their homes, and celebrations.

Photo Credit: Rebel Howl Studios

What are some challenges you faced while building your business? How have you overcome them?

Steph : There were challenges in finding product companies that would work with a non-binary [owned], queer business—but we found suppliers who are fantastic. 

Maneland also opened 6 months before the pandemic, which was extremely challenging. There was minimal support for a small business during COVID, but with the help of my loyal clientele and additional funding, I was able to keep Maneland going. 

Paulo: The top three concerns are probably managing my cash flow, taking care of my mental health, and being prepared for unexpected situations. I talk to other entrepreneurs and try to get advice from them — having that reference helps 

Olga: After our experience of running a business in our home country, we can compare and confidently say that there are actually no significant challenges for building a small business in Canada. For each step, there are simple and clear rules to follow, ensuring that everything goes smoothly and correctly. Therefore, we cannot claim to have faced any serious obstacles. 

Alana: We wanted to avoid getting burnt out and overwhelmed, so from day one we prioritized work-life balance: We keep the shop closed two days a week, add an extra day off to long weekends, close for a couple of weeks after Christmas, outsource what we can, and remind ourselves that personal lives are so much more important than anything that happens at our business. 

COVID was another big challenge. We spent two years adjusting the way we operated. We feel like we ultimately got “how to run a business” boot camp training, so it was kind of a benefit in its own way

Our current biggest challenge is fighting the rising cost of….everything! Basically, 75% of our goods have  become pricier over the past year, with no end in sight.  

Shawn: In the beginning, I’d catch myself spending way too much time trying to learn a new skill instead of just asking a friend, family member, fellow business owner, or bookkeeper. Sometimes you just have to own up to the fact that you’re not going to be a solopreneur forever—and that’s a good thing!

Being a trainer, I do feel a sense of leadership, like there’s an expectation that I am “totally healthy” and no “fun”. Finding my own balance over the years—being in a fulfilling relationship, running a business and taking care of myself—isn’t always easy, but I know and see firsthand the importance of being kind to ourselves

 

Photo credit: Ryan Tobin Photography

How did Futurpreneur support your startup?

Olga: Without the involvement of Futurpreneur, we would not exist. When you arrive in another country to start a life from scratch, you essentially have no resources for a startup. We registered on the Futurpreneur website during our search, and  the business development manager promptly contacted us and found us the perfect solution. We were able to launch our business shortly after with Futurpreneur’s quick turnaround and support.  

Paulo: Futurpreneur gave me not only the funds to start my business – the company showed me support, guidance and direction. Having a mentor and all the connections I’ve made so far is helping me build my business in a healthy and consistent way.

Steph: Futurpreneur set me up with a mentor, which was very helpful – as a new small business owner, it was comforting to have a mentor to be able to talk to and ask questions.

Alana: Futurpreneur’s funding was not only valuable in terms of us needing the dollars —it also wasn’t terrifying to new entrepreneurs! Working with lenders can be so intimidating, but Futurpreneur really wants you to succeed and thrive. 

Futurpreneur also supported us with guidance. When you’re pitching your idea to banks and lenders and landlords, etc, it can be really disheartening when they can’t see your vision. Futurpreneur worked with us to ensure our business plan was sound, provided guidance, and ultimately confirmed our belief that we were onto something with this idea.

Shawn : In the beginning, no bank would look at me. Futurpreneur went out of their way—even during COVID—to ensure that I was not only being supported but being educated. They helped me understand my health and wellness business from so many new perspectives.

Shawn Raymond
Photo Credit:
Market House Ltd.

 

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Alana : Find a way to start your business smaller to see if it’s a viable idea, and start to build relationships with customers, suppliers, and fellow business owners
Second, prioritize yourself. Your health, personal life, and relationships are SO much more important than your professional life.

Third, do YOU! Don’t worry about anyone else. Be authentic in your idea, in yourself, and it will come through in your business and success. Ultimately, people are looking for authenticity.

Shawn: Take care of you, invest in you, find the people that support your vision. Let others have their perspective, but don’t let it shake the trust you have in yourself, in your own pursuit of happiness. 

Olga : Please do not be afraid to take a step forward, even if the circumstances around you may seem hopeless. Later, you will be surprised at how insignificant the things that once seemed insurmountable, actually turn out to be.   

Paulo : Take care of your mental health, work closely with your business mentor or coach, and do not give up.  

Steph : Start small, plant seeds and follow your dreams!

Ready to launch your own business? We’re here to help! Reach out and tell us more about your startup

Olga Vernev (left) & Natasha Vernev (right)
Photo Credit: Allister Foster

Note: this Q&A has been edited and condensed. 

From the Ground Up: Behind the Scenes of Knix and Mejuri’s Success

On April 19, 2023, the Arcadian Court in Toronto was buzzing with energy as over 200 in-person attendees and 280 virtual guests gathered to hear from two trailblazing women founders, Joanna Griffiths and Noura Sakkijha 

The fireside chat hosted by Canadian Club Toronto was moderated by our CEO, Karen Greve Young and we were treated to candid insights behind the success of the two Canadian entrepreneurs. 

Meet the Trailblazing Futurpreneur-supported Founders

Joanna Griffiths, Knix & KT by Knix

Photo by Mike Hagarty

Joanna Griffiths is the founder and CEO of Knix and KT by Knix, one of the fastest-growing global intimate apparel brands. The company launched in 2013 and recently, Essity, leading hygiene and health company, acquired 80% of Knix, making the sale the largest publicly disclosed private sale by a female founder in Canada.  

Noura Sakkijha, Mejuri

Photo by Mike Hagarty

Born and raised in Jordan, Noura Sakkijha is a third-generation jeweler who initially chose to pursue industrial engineering before immigrating to Canada and deciding to return to her passion, jewelry. She launched
Mejuri in 2015, a brand that is a symbol of empowerment, inclusivity, and innovation. 

Opening the conversation, Karen pointed out the similarities between the two founders. Both received funding from Futurpreneur in the early stages of launching their businesses, both businesses carry a mission to empower women, and interestingly, both entrepreneurs raised funding while pregnant with twin girls. 

From Idea to Leading Global Brands 

Growing up, Noura observed that jewelry was marketed as something exclusive, at a high price point and, towards men to buy as gifts for women. After noticing a gap in the market for affordable quality jewelry, she was inspired to create a brand that empowers women to buy jewelry for themselves. With the spirit of “buy yourself the damn diamond,” Noura wants women to celebrate what matters to them, regardless of the occasion. 

Joanna, on the other hand, knew little about the intimate apparel industry. She had the idea of creating leak-proof underwear when she realized many women experience leaks from pregnancy, post-partum, or even sneezing, or exercising, but there were no products in the market to address that issue. In a world that perpetuates a photoshopped version of women’s bodies, her aim was to create a brand that “talks to their customers for who they are, and that honours them by showcasing how fantastic they are.” 

Overcoming Challenges in Their Entrepreneurial Journeys

When asked about the challenges they faced, Noura shared that “the challenges never stop, but you get better at handling them”.  

Early on, the first difficulty she encountered was raising capital, as she faced multiple rejections from venture capitalists. She emphasized that entrepreneurs should learn from their failures and most importantly embrace them as they represent an opportunity for growth and improvement. Despite the hurdles, surrounding herself with other like-minded entrepreneurs, helped her get back on her feet and remain motivated to not give up on her dream.  

Joanna agreed that challenges vary along the journey. Between figuring out how to make a product that did not exist, convincing manufacturers to take a leap of faith, and going through numbers of prototypes, there were periods filled with self-doubt. She highlighted, however, the importance of resilience and pushing through difficult times, sharing “looking back at things that used to break me, when they happen now, I’m able to brush them off and keep going”. 

Talking about their first investors, Joanna explained that support came in from mostly friends and family, as well as Futurpreneur. “The organization gave me money when no one else would!” Noura mentioned that she received grants and support through Founder Fuel, and she was grateful to Futurpreneur, specifically for providing a non-dilutive loan that allowed her to remain in full control of her business at that early stage. 

Photo by Mike Hagarty

Words of Wisdom for Young Entrepreneurs 

After taking questions from the audience, both entrepreneurs provided words of wisdom for entrepreneurs going through hard times in their own journeys. “In the early stages, talk to and learn from customers and when you grow, hire the best people,” Noura shared, as she strongly recommended that aspiring entrepreneurs surround themselves with great individuals.

Joanna emphasized that hard times inspire real growth stating, “the struggles and failures are incredibly normal, and I wish more people would talk about it.” She added that it was crucial for entrepreneurs to take care of themselves “it is a game of resiliency and it’s important that you keep a positive mindset,” she urged. “We are all a work in progress and as you build and lead a team, you must evolve, and step up to a place and that takes an entirely different skillset. You are working on building an incredible company, brand and legacy that will exist for generations. Once you get past the point of self-doubt, focus on what you want the brand to be known for and on its impact!”

Photo by Mike Hagarty

It’s Your Time!

If you feel inspired and ready to start your own entrepreneurial journey, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! Whether you want to start a side-hustle, purchase a business or launch your own, we have a team of experts who can guide you through the process and lead you to success!   

And don’t forget to check out the full fireside chat with Joanna Griffiths and Noura Sakkijha for even more insights and inspiration. 

Celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program

Two years ago, Futurpreneur announced a new funding collaboration with Royal Bank of Canada to deliver the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program (BESP), building on its longstanding partnership with Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). This initiative was launched to provide access to capital, mentorship, resources, and networking opportunities to help aspiring Black entrepreneurs across the country. As we celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the BESP, we are proudly reflecting on its incredible impact on the community and looking ahead towards the future.

Over $11M Provided in Capital Alongside 1:1 Mentorship

In the first two years of launch, the BESP has made a significant difference in addressing the barriers that many young, Black entrepreneurs face when accessing capital and other crucial business resources within the Canadian economic landscape. We have proudly disbursed over $11 million in collateral-free business loans, while supporting more than 275 Black-led businesses and matched them with a mentor to help them launch their startup journey.

According to the 2022 State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada report, Black women entrepreneurs still encounter numerous obstacles, despite their impressive skills and experience. These challenges arise from the conscious and unconscious biases deeply rooted in institutions and organizations designed to support entrepreneurs, which disproportionately affect Black women1.

As we celebrate our 2nd anniversary, we’re also proud to share that 51% of the businesses we’ve supported through the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program are led by women. By fostering an inclusive and diverse entrepreneurial environment, we remain committed to empowering Black entrepreneurs and helping them thrive in their businesses.

Honouring Black Entrepreneurs and Inspiring the Next Generation 

In February, we hosted an event to celebrate the achievements of Black entrepreneurs. The evening was dedicated to “Honouring Black Entrepreneurs and Inspiring the Next Generation”, and we welcomed a full house to our national office in Toronto. We provided attendees with a unique opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals and learn from industry experts.

The event effectively showcased the significant impact of the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program in empowering Black entrepreneurs nationwide. It also served as a fitting prelude to our 2nd anniversary celebrations.

Many young entrepreneurs came in from out of town to join us and we are deeply grateful for the overwhelming response from the community both in-person and on social media – it was a night to remember!

Raising the Visibility of Black Entrepreneurs 

Throughout February, we also dedicated Futurpreneur’s communication platforms to celebrating Black History Month and highlighting successful young Black entrepreneurs through the video series “A Day in the Life of a Black Entrepreneur” featuring four amazing Futurpreneur-supported business owners across Canada.

Adesola Ogunsakin of The Retro Bag Canada, London, Ontario

Meet Adesola Ogunsakin, who after completing her medical degree, took a giant leap of faith and launched her brand online. Pursuing her passion for fashion, the entrepreneur founded The Retro Bag Canada in 2019. Today, her brick-and-mortar store shines in one of the biggest shopping malls in London, Ontario.

Alexandra Nerette of Nerette Notaires, Saint-Lambert, Québec

Meet Alexandra Nerette of Nerette Notaires, who takes us on a journey through her daily routine and shares how she considers Quebec, a place where everyone can create their own path and become successful.

Kudzaishe Rodney Tembo of East Coast Rec Rides, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Meet Kudzaishe Rodney Tembo, passionate entrepreneur, founder of East Coast Rec Rides and an active contributor to Nova Scotia’s tourism industry. Watch him as he highlights the importance of having inspirational Black leaders to support the next generation of Black business owners.

Arlene Ambrose of Arlene Ambrose Curated Health, Edmonton, Alberta

Meet Arlene Ambrose of Arlene Ambrose Curated Health and learn how you can take your business to the next level by “taking a leap of faith”. Watch as she shares why mentorship is your most important asset as an aspiring entrepreneur.

Through the BESP, we are committed to sharing the experiences of young entrepreneurs year-round with initiatives such as our video series, as well as our podcast, “Startup + Prosper” plus many more to follow.

Building a Better Future for Black Entrepreneurs

As we reflect on the past two years and celebrate the success of the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program, funded by RBC with additional loan support from BDC, we remain committed to empowering Black entrepreneurs across Canada. We recognize that there is still much work to be done to address systemic barriers and support Black entrepreneurs, particularly Black women entrepreneurs.

Supporting Black entrepreneurs is not only a matter of equity, but it is also imperative for the Canadian economy. By ensuring that Black entrepreneurs have access to the capital, mentorship, and resources they need to succeed, we can build a more prosperous and inclusive future for all entrepreneurs across the country.

We would like to extend our gratitude to all our partners and supporters who have contributed to the success of the program, especially RBC and BDC. We look forward to continuing this vital work and building a brighter future for Black entrepreneurs in Canada.

1 Cukier, W., Mo, G. Y., Chavoushi, Z. H., Borova, B., Osten, V. (2022). The State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada 2022. Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.

The Power of Women: Breaking Barriers and Making an Impact

Did you know that the Futurpreneur team includes 62% employees identifying as women, including half of our senior leadership? That’s not all, 44% of all Futurpreneur-supported businesses are led by women. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we want to celebrate women-owned businesses by hearing directly from the entrepreneurs about their experiences: challenges, achievements, and the way forward.

Women Leading the Charge

Carolann Robyn Cruz, Founder - Enn Taant

Carolann Robyn Cruz

Carolann Robyn Cruz is an Indigenous entrepreneur and founder of Enn Taant, a camping gear and supplies business in Manitoba. Robyn has been an outdoor enthusiast, and her love for camping started as a child, raised by a tight-knit Metis family full of outdoorsy folks.

Accessibility to equipment is a major factor for campers and Cruz wanted to make, “… camping easy and accessible for EVERYONE by providing and setting up good quality camping gear. Our priority is to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.”

 

Sumru Sezer, Founder - Mint+Grey

Sumru Sezer

Owner and founder of Mint+Grey, Sumru Sezer, moved to Canada in 2018, and missed the comfort of Turkish towels in the country. She found a gap in the market between microfiber and cotton terry towels and decided to launch her own brand of premium quality, authentic Turkish towels for self-caring, active living, environmentally conscious people.

Anna Chan, Founder & CEO - myMomentum

Anna Chan

Anna Chan from myMomentum talks about the tipping point in her life, “I felt workplace burnout from leading a startup during its high growth phase back in 2015, and knew it was time for me to rediscover my purpose. I became a fitness coach and during this time, found the fundamental problem of the lack of empathy surrounding wellness.” She launched myMomentum, a B2B company that provides people-first companies with an easy and cost-effective way to show their care for their employees’ well-being via a personalized app.

 

Kenesha Lewis, Founder - One More Cocoa

Kenesha Lewis

Her love for cocoa tea (Jamaican hot chocolate) that she drank as a child with her grandfather inspired Kenesha Lewis to start her own business, One More Cocoa. According to Lewis, she wanted to create a brand that would, “bring some of my Caribbean heritage, nostalgic things from my childhood and simple flavours we all love, together.”

Challenges Facing Women in Business Today

Talking about the challenges they faced while starting their businesses, Cruz says, “The biggest challenges that I faced when starting up last year was gaining access to capital, especially after the pandemic. Lenders seemed more apprehensive to lend to a tourism startup after we all witnessed how much of an impact it had on worldwide tourism.”

Sezer feels issues like self-doubt and burnout are real and all entrepreneurs go through it at some point in their journey. She made the decision to take one step at a time and allowed herself to make mistakes and improve on them as she went along.

Balancing the journey of motherhood, and being a non-technical solo founder was extremely challenging for Chan. Securing funding is another big hurdle for business owners, so she leaned on alternative and less traditional ways to fund myMomentum in the early days and doubled down on revenue generation.

Finding Financing and Support

Speaking about the role Futurpreneur played in achieving her dreams, Lewis shares, “We received our largest order to date and were unsure how to process such a large order without the correct equipment. With the Futurpreneur loan and mentorship, we were able to get what we needed. Working with a mentor has been great. They were able to give me an outside perspective on the things I needed to do to move forward.”

Sezer says, “Apart from funding, my Futurpreneur mentors, and advisors helped me create an outlet for my ideas, and structure to my plans. Starting as a single individual, building the pillars and creating the future of your business can feel lonely. Structure brings clarity to your vision and people provide the companionship.”

In Chan’s words, “Not only did Futurpreneur fuel our traction in our early days by funding us in 2018 alongside BDC, but we’ve been exposed to a host of speaking and networking opportunities to grow our brand awareness. Having an organization believe in and support us has allowed us to build the confidence to aggressively go after our goals!”

“I owe Futurpreneur a huge amount of credit for Enn Taant’s success from the idea stage to launch and beyond. They have provided not only financial support, but also avenues to meet fellow entrepreneurs, mentorship, and many important business connections,” states Cruz.

Advice to the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

For their final piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, Sezer exclaims, “Don’t postpone! If you have it in your heart, if you know you need to take the step, if you think it’s the time, do it.”

Lewis shares her words of wisdom, “Find something you enjoy doing and that you are passionate about. Learn as much as you can about it and if it fills you with pride and enjoyment, run with it. Start your business with a solid plan, passion for what you’re selling and the drive to grow it to where you want to take it. This attitude will help in those low moments, in uncertain times and push you to do more to succeed.”

“Don’t give up. Make sure your idea is simple. Be prepared to pivot where it is required and be at peace with it, things won’t always be easy, but it will be easier when you can adapt,” advises Cruz.

Surrounding yourself with the right people is one of Chan’s big learnings, “Your team is the heart of your organization, and you want to make sure that these are the people who will bring in their own unique perspectives and push the boundaries of what seems possible. Additionally, focus and set hard unapologetic boundaries to care for yourself – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We can, and deserve, an amazing life too – we aren’t just entrepreneurs!”

We hope that the inspiring stories of these successful business leaders will motivate you to embark on your own entrepreneurial journey and turn your dream business into a reality!

Side Hustle – An opportunity in adversity

While the whole world is facing economic uncertainty, starting a business can seem like an uphill task. On the bright side, a side hustle can be the perfect opportunity to invest your time and effort in what truly interests you and realize your entrepreneurial dreams. You don’t have to turn your life around or quit your job to tackle an entrepreneurial project that may even lead to a new career. What’s more, a side hustle can benefit you in so many different ways. Here’s how you can level up at your own pace.

Taking the Leap

“The biggest thing is just getting started,” observes Emily Seaman, founder and co-owner of Kohr Method, a wellness studio based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. “First, you have to try something to see if people are going to like it. And then from there, you need to see if it has legs to grow on its own,” advises the Pilates instructor. The studio first started in 2020 as an online community. Their service offering has since extended to include a physical space and an app.

Whether you’re looking for a way to supplement your income or you want to reach personal and professional goals, a side hustle can be the answer to both.

Emily wanted to share with the world how movement healed her. “8 years ago, I was in a very bad car accident. They really thought I was going to have chronic pain for the rest of my life,” recounts the entrepreneur, who had to undergo physical rehabilitation. On her road to recovery, she fell in love with Pilates. She got her teaching training and discovered alternative forms of movement, which then led her to opening her own studio.

While you can take the opportunity to specialize in something you’re already well acquainted with, this doesn’t have to be the case. When Devon de Balasi Brown came up with the inspiration behind the social card game Fluster, he and his co-founder had no prior experience. “We were not board game enthusiasts. It was scratching like an itch in our own lives,” he says of the passion project that is now a successful venture.

Keeping at It

Growing a side hustle isn’t always easy and comes with its own set of hurdles including knowledge about cash flow, customer acquisition, marketing etc.. As founders, Devon and Emily both received support from the Futurpreneur Side Hustle Program, the program has been a tremendous help, both financially and resource-wise. “It really helped us make sure that we got our business plan together and that we had everything that we needed,” says the studio owner. The financial support allowed Emily to buy equipment and receive valuable mentorship from a fellow gym owner.

From the get-go, it’s important that you define the purpose. “Our vision is to reduce loneliness, bridge division, support well-being, and create connections through play,” states Devon. At times when he doubted his capacities, reminding himself of the purpose really helped him focus. “I think it’s important to take those first steps and fully own your actions,” he states.

It’s also best to aim for the long run. “Things will move slower than you expect them to. Set things up in sustainable ways knowing that you’re not just going to be doing a side hustle for a month, or six months,” he advises. He also notes that the time he and his partner dedicate to Fluster fluctuates: there are moments when the project requires more energy for the pair, who chose to maintain a career in other fields.

“A lot of times, when people found out that I had this on the side, they ask, ‘are you eventually planning on quitting and doing this full time?” explains Emily Seaman. She prefers to have a traditional career while running a business that uplifts her. “Of course, I want all of my professional roles to fuel me and be passion-related,” she points out. In her full-time job, Emily works as a digital strategist, a position that fulfils her interests. She also put her knowledge into practice in Kohr Methods. “I never want to feel stagnant. I have two things that fuel my passion for movement and my passion for learning,” she goes on to say. In the same way, you can develop many transferable skills from running your business — whether it’s time organization, finance, business, or decision-making skills.

As you see, you can do things your own way with a side hustle. Venturing into a business gives you room to figure out what you want and keep growing. You couldn’t ask for a sweeter deal, could you?

E06: Rewriting the Canadian Dream through entrepreneurship

Tune into our new podcast, Startup + Prosper! Our podcast is dedicated to the key elements of the entrepreneurial mindset, with a particular focus on the current state of Black entrepreneurship in Canada. Each of the episodes aims to inspire and educate listeners about Black-owned businesses and their reality while providing more insight into Futurpreneur’s goals to grow, learn and help address the disparities faced by the BIPOC entrepreneurial community. Read their stories, listen and subscribe to our podcast, Startup + Prosper:

E06: Rewriting the Canadian Dream through entrepreneurship

As Canadians, we pride ourselves on the multicultural nature of our country – a unique reality also reflected in the diversity of Canadian entrepreneurship.

Ivan Touko, founder of La Connexional, embodies the so-called “Canadian dream” through his inspiring journey. The entrepreneur, community developer, and artist was named among Alberta’s 30 under 30. Merging entrepreneurship and art in his projects, Touko explains: “I am passionate about social innovation and technology and how the intersection of social innovation, technology and culture can benefit communities that are usually underserved.”

At the age of 16, Touko moved to Edmonton from Cameroon. On his way to success, Touko had to overcome many barriers. “When I emigrated, I experienced a great sense of isolation from my culture and communities. It was difficult to find Cameroonians my age or people who looked like me to develop a support system,” he remembers.

Building Community Through Culture

In school, Touko met classmates who introduced him to dance and percussion. “Through dance and drumming, I had also found a group to belong to. That’s really what helped me, at that time, to navigate the whole thing,” he recalls. Following this decisive encounter, Touko became increasingly involved in the cultural scene, eventually becoming a professional dancer. He says that it was this passion that allowed him to get to where he is today: “Through dance, I learned discipline and consistency. The person who managed the group was an entrepreneur.” From observing his teacher, Touko was exposed to the concept of art as a professional path and learnt how to manage operations, from logistics to performances.

While establishing himself as an artpreneur, Touko studied environmental science and conservation in university. “On the one hand, it has nothing to do with what I am doing today. On the other hand, my major being in sustainable development, I decided to focus on the social aspect and the importance of creating vibrant communities that contribute to social well-being” .

It was also at university that the artist met the person with whom he would later co-found La Connexional, a socially-driven enterprise that promotes the talents of Afrodescendent and Latino people in Edmonton, where he still resides. Relying on community-oriented workshops and events, the co-founders “create physical and virtual spaces for these communities to grow, learn collectively and create new resources. (…) It impacts adjacent communities because when you create a resource for a particular community, it’s not just that community that benefits from it.”

The idea grew out of his student days, when Yvan Touko had the opportunity to get involved in the African Students Association, which led him to plan events and build a network. Like many of his peers, Touko and his friends wanted to party. However, they noticed a lack of Afrobeat, Latin and Caribbean music. “We needed something different, something reminiscent of my nights in Cameroon before I immigrated to Canada”. To remedy this, he launched a first music event to which as many as 500 people showed up. “There were about 10-15% of these people from the Latin, African or Caribbean communities,” he says.

Aside from event planning, the entrepreneur finds a passion in community development. “I was lucky enough to find a group,” Touko notes. “Many others may not have been so fortunate, so it was important for me to create spaces that offered that”—a need even more acute outside of Toronto or Montreal.

Leveraging the Tools

The Connexional remains an organization small in numbers but not in impact. The company leverages the tech tools made available to carry out its mission and projects. “Today, we are seeing a big boom in SAAS (software as a service), which develops tools to allow small organizations, like La Connexional, to get started without teak or coding expertise,” he points out. The initiative’s website reflects this approach, as does their use of free or low-cost tools: Canva for visuals; Hootsuite, Linktree, or Taplik for social network management; as well as Deskera for accounting, billing, and marketing. “Shopify, which is one of the most effective platforms for companies with products for sale, offers a free 3 to 6 months for Black entrepreneurs,” he also notes.

For those interested in starting an initiative of their own, Touko recommends not only getting  mentoring and access to resources as early as possible, but also developing a business plan. “With La Connexional, we organized so many different events that helped us see which areas were the best fit for us. But having a strategic plan would have surely helped me to come up with more sustainable initiatives impacting the business and its growth,” he points out.

To hear the full story of Ivan Touko, listen to the podcast episode on The Canadian Dream—A Story of Immigration and Entrepreneurship, available on Spotify and Youtube.

E04: On Belonging and Taking Space with Alfred Burgesson

Tune into our new podcast, Startup + Prosper! Our podcast is dedicated to the key elements of the entrepreneurial mindset, with a particular focus on the current state of Black entrepreneurship in Canada. Each of the episodes aims to inspire and educate listeners about Black-owned businesses and their reality while providing more insight into Futurpreneur’s goals to grow, learn and help address the disparities faced by the BIPOC entrepreneurial community. Read their stories, listen and subscribe to our podcast, Startup + Prosper:

E04: On Belonging and Taking Space with Alfred Burgesson

Alfred Burgesson hasn’t always felt as though he belonged. When he was six years old, he left Ghana with his family to settle in Canada: “I moved to a town called Port Hawkesbury in Nova Scotia, with a population of 4,000 people. And it’s not very diverse,” he recalls.

By then, the experience was already prompting some essential questions. “I feel like from a young age, I was always looking for—I was always looking for a sense of community and like, who are my people here, who can I relate to?”

Finding your Kind

Decades later, not only did Alfred take up the space that he was due—he made sure to bring along everybody who looked like him and their talents. In 2020, he founded Tribe Network, connecting Black, Indigenous and People of Colour pursuing entrepreneurship and innovation with opportunities and each other. “Tribe Network came from my personal experience and from listening to the experience of other entrepreneurs. The organization is set out to be the BIPOC entrepreneurship hub in Canada,” he tells us.

Burgesson got an early start in entrepreneurship through an after-school program called Junior Achievement, where students come together with their peers to build a company. “I had a core group of people I was working with, and together, we were able to take up space,” explains the founder. “Entrepreneurship is about finding like-minded people who care about the problem you’re trying to solve. And together, you can take up space and create community,”, which is the mindset he carries with him still to this day.

Now, Tribe Network offers a space where entrepreneurs can support each other, which, in the eyes of the founder, is crucial. “You know, if I’m dealing with an issue, when I talk to an entrepreneur who’s already dealt with that, they’re able to give me direct feedback on how I can solve that issue, from their lived experience. So I think it’s really important that entrepreneurs surround themselves in a community where they belong.”

The idea for the network sprouted in the summer of 2020 through discussions between Alfred and his sister, who is an entrepreneur herself. The aim was to help build capacity for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs and centralize that information. “The core of our conversation was—how can we give Black entrepreneurs a platform where they can sell their products and services to the world? How can we create a community where they can connect and learn from each other? How do we create a sense of belonging and community during COVID and lockdowns?”

Coaching, advising and mentoring are great ways to be supported, which you can access through Tribe. “I would encourage you to identify people who can support your entrepreneurial journey. But the crucial thing is that they believe in the problem you’re trying to solve, and that they believe in you.”

The Power of Data

Before launching his latest venture, Alfred Burgesson, an alumni of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council, was the co-chair of Canada’s first State of youth report.

He was also project lead at the African Canadian Senate group and the office of Senator Colin Deacon, a project aiming to dive deeper into the gaps for Black entrepreneurs in Canada. There, he was given the opportunity to study the problem he was initially exploring, gathering insight about the current state of Black entrepreneurship.

“The data that we collected definitely shed light on the state of Black entrepreneurs,” says the founder.

Information and numbers pertaining to BIPOC communities have historically been absent and underreported. “Fortunately or unfortunately, I think we are operating in a society and a system that often requires data to inform decisions,” says Burgesson. And when there’s data, there’s proof. Surveying has also allowed Black entrepreneurs to share their experiences and voice their concerns to governments.

“Through my work with the Senate, I realized that there were gaps in the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem. And the gaps had to do with entrepreneurs not being BIPOC, and not being connected with each other across the country,” says Burgesson. Furthermore, the entrepreneur states that his fellow BIPOC colleagues were not being connected to accelerators or incubators, which he is set on changing.

Turns out that these programs also need to be more representative of the population. “If they want more Black entrepreneurs, they need to have Black staff, coaches, mentors, plus language and resources that are tailored towards Black entrepreneurs,” Burgesson indicates.

Taking Up Space

Despite being an active entrepreneur for most of his life, Alfred Burgesson has felt at times that he was going through it alone. “Sometimes it’s challenging for entrepreneurs to walk into white spaces and thrive in them,” he says.

And it takes guts to get started and to keep at it. “It’s not an easy thing, and you need to have a lot of courage to succeed in entrepreneurship. So I think a part of that mindset is being able to walk in spaces where you’ll be the only one,” he says, speaking from experience.

And the burden shouldn’t only be ours to carry. “If an organization is going to make a commitment to being more diverse, I think it’s important that the team take a step back to recognize either the knowledge or lack of knowledge they have. It’s important to build capacity in the existing team to be able to support this new person or new people who are coming into your workplace,” pleads Burgersson. And we are talking about ongoing efforts, not a simple warm welcome. “You need to acknowledge and create the journey that will allow the entire staff to get better educated on how to support the community, not just the person coming in.”

For more perspective on breaking the glass ceiling, you can listen to the podcast episode “Taking Up Space: You belong!” with Alfred Burgersson.

This article was written by Christelle Saint-Julien

E03: Think Bigger —Escaping a Micro-Entrepreneurship Mindset With Frénie Jean-Baptiste

Tune into our new podcast, Startup + Prosper! Our podcast is dedicated to the key elements of the entrepreneurial mindset, with a particular focus on the current state of Black entrepreneurship in Canada. Each of the episodes aims to inspire and educate listeners about Black-owned businesses and their reality while providing more insight into Futurpreneur’s goals to grow, learn and help address the disparities faced by the BIPOC entrepreneurial community. Read their stories, listen and subscribe to our podcast, Startup + Prosper:

E03: Think Bigger —Escaping a Micro-Entrepreneurship Mindset With Frénie Jean-Baptiste

If it doesn’t serve you, let it go. What happens when we apply that to our mindsets?

Micro-entrepreneurship refers to small companies running on minimal investment, operated by a handful of employees. If that is what Frénie Jean-Baptiste, founder of Bayard Gâteaux and Bayard Royal, first set out to do, she always saw the bigger picture. In 2015, she launched an online business specializing in baking and delivering buttercream cakes. Since then, thousands of happy tasters have enjoyed these sweet treats at home and at events, such as weddings, parties and other celebrations. In 2020, Jean-Baptiste launched Bayard Royal, a line of rum cake products that are now sold online and at various points of sale across the province.

While it may be a small business, it is a mighty operation with an impressive reach. Frénie Jean-Baptiste never considered the scale of her operations, and we could all benefit from eschewing the micro-entrepreneurship mentality, which is very present among Black entrepreneurs.

Recent studies examine the realities of Black entrepreneurship in Canada. A report by Pitch Better Canada determined that 45% of Black women entrepreneurs consider their business’ lifecycle in a growth phase. Rise Up, a research project commissioned by the Black Business Professional Association (BBPA) conducted among 700 Black women entrepreneurs, concluded that the majority of the businesses surveyed operated from home were online, and had no employees. Moreover, the Inclusive Entrepreneurship: Exploring the Barriers Facing Black Entrepreneurs in Canada project, led by the African Canadian Senate group, highlighted the lack of access to capital and resources — 44% of businesses accounted for are not able to pay themselves. And while this is the case, 87% of Black entrepreneurs surveyed report that they are somewhat optimistic about the future of their businesses.

If Jean-Baptiste had an early interest in e-commerce, it was women entrepreneurs on YouTube who inspired her to launch her first venture. As a university student, she put out a party decoration website. In her own words, it was a bust. “It didn’t work out because it required a huge investment that I didn’t have,” she recognizes as she reflects back on the experience.

Her second idea came from the heart. Jean-Baptiste grew up very close to her grandmother—at only 4 years old, Frénie was already keen on helping her in the kitchen. Nearly two decades later, when she was attending university in Montreal, her grandma, who lived abroad, was diagnosed with cancer. Frénie decided to halt everything and spend time with her. “It was just like before, we started to cook again even though she was quite weak,” recalls the entrepreneur. Then, it just clicked. She loved to cook, bake and already had a lot of equipment, so why not launch a food business?

Quickly, Jean-Baptiste put together a logo. Bayard is her grandmother’s name, and the cake recipe is straight from her kitchen. “I showed it to my grandmother and she was very moved,” says Jean-Baptiste. Sadly, two weeks later, Mrs. Bayard passed on, leaving her legacy with her granddaughter.

Frénie Jean-Baptiste launched her business two months later. She sought to make herself stand out by having an online business. “There are many pastry chefs in Montreal and in the community. Why not make pre-decorated cakes that are sold online? All people have to do is to order the cake. It takes two clicks , and we take care of delivery.”

At the time, the business owner hadn’t yet imagined commercializing her product everywhere in Québec. “All I wanted was to have a business. Already, it was a challenge for me. I didn’t want to venture into entrepreneurship, it’s something I did because I saw other people do it,” she says.

In 2020, she launched another brainchild, Bayard Royal. This new project bakes and sells rum cakes through a different channel, strategy and website. The product is sold everywhere in the province, and can be found at select IGA stores. “We are targeting a much larger audience,” explains the founder, adding that the past few months have been heavy on production. “People often believe that there’s a big team behind it, but we are still operating with three people,” says Jean-Baptiste, who runs Bayard with her mother and her husband.
Keeping it modest never stopped her from thinking bigger, adjusting her strategy to her means and ambitions. “This is one of the reasons I worked hard on the strategy in order to simplify the production and manufacturing process,” she explains.

Would things be different if she launched today, rather than when she did in 2015? Absolutely. The businesswoman recognizes that there is more visibility and resources now available to Black-owned businesses. At the time, she had to do a lot of explaining for people to understand the project.

When starting out, she didn’t have a mentor. She turned to podcasts, YouTube videos, Instagram posts and books from entrepreneurs that offered guidance. “What I realized was that the people who were successful, especially in the food business, were the ones who had left the micro-entrepreneurial stage to expand into a bigger business,” she says. “It was often people who focused on one or two products, managed to save a lot on scaling and pushed out that product. I decided to have a similar strategy.” There goes one of the many pieces of advice she offers. “Instead of doing many things, having different products, pick one or two that you can master and commercialize.” For more insights, you can listen to the podcast episode Escaping a Micro-Entrepreneurship Mindset With Frénie Jean-Baptiste here.

This article was written by Christelle Saint-Julien