• Entrepreneurship

Celebrating Canada’s Diverse Young Entrepreneurs

Karen Greve Young | June 30, 2020

Resilient, creative and hard-working, they are the pillars of communities large and small nationwide

This Canada Day, we may not see the usual fireworks and fanfare, but young entrepreneurs nationwide have shown us there is still much to celebrate.

Six months into 2020, the global pandemic is thankfully slowing in Canada and many other parts of the world, businesses are beginning to reopen and “social circles” are expanding, offering a glimpse of the return to somewhat normal.

And yet these are not normal times. COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on many Canadians, and disproportionately so when it comes to the health and economic wellbeing of Black, Indigenous and other Peoples of Colour, both in Canada and worldwide. Recent incidents and global protests are reminders of how far we have to go as a society to ensure equitable opportunity for and fair treatment of these communities.

Beyond words of hope, we are now starting to see real action. This confluence of the pandemic and protests has rallied people from coast to coast to coast to support each other. From the nightly cheers of support for healthcare workers to the many shop local campaigns to keep small businesses afloat, to diverse communities protesting racial injustice and organizations committing to change, Canadians are stepping up.

Key among the change agents are the thousands of diverse, young Canadian entrepreneurs who have worked tirelessly to support each other and those in their communities, all while trying to keep their main street businesses in operation.

Within Futurpreneur’s client network alone, there are countless stories of young entrepreneurs using their ingenuity and drive to help those impacted by the pandemic. For example:

  • Newfoundland-based Granville Biomedical, which normally creates anatomical simulation models for women’s health training and education, began producing face shields for healthcare workers and is now seeking approval to begin supplying 3D-printed nasal swabs for COVID-19 testing.
  • Waterloo-based EdTech company InkSmith, which sells 3D printers and robotics kits, pivoted to developing 3D-printed personal protective equipment under their new spinoff company The Canadian Shield. Since the company’s launch in March, the team has grown from a staff of 10 to more than 250 and is supplying two-thirds of the 16 million medical face shields that the federal government is procuring from Canadian companies.
  • Toronto-based accessories brand Zvelle encouraged followers to nominate healthcare heroes who could then receive a pair of sandals designed in honour of Canada’s first female physician and the founder of Women’s College Hospital, Emily Stowe. The company’s #WalkHowYouWant campaign also celebrates diverse women, encouraging them to be proud of who they are.
  • Montreal-based online grocer Goodfood has been helping Canadian families dealing with income loss and food insecurity during COVID-19 by supporting Breakfast Club of Canada with financial donations, employee volunteer programs that serve healthy breakfasts at local schools and a fundraising campaign that generated $58,000 to help those in need.
  • Kelowna-based company Grey Hearts Denim, which repurposes vintage finds into new fashions, quickly set to work making denim masks for their community and for healthcare workers when the pandemic hit. Co-owned by Black and Latino founders, the company also launched a special line of socks in support of calls to end Anti-Black racism, with all profits donated to the “Campaign Zero” fund to end police violence in America. They are also donating socks to the Houston-based charity Assistance League of the Bay Area (George Floyd’s hometown), which helps clothe children in need and adults re-entering the workforce.
  • Edmonton-based Indigenous entrepreneur Jason Courtepatte, whose one-year-old green energy company Kite Electric had to shut down during the pandemic, used his downtime to develop a new business model that will help provide critical food security to small communities year-round.

Since 1996, Futurpreneur has helped more than 13,400 young, ambitious founders launch more than 11,000 companies like those highlighted above. Located across the country in small rural communities and big cities alike, the founders we support reflect Canada’s diverse population and almost 50% of them are women.

They are the people who run main street businesses all around us—they are newcomers to Canada, women and men from every ethnic background, members of the LGBTQ+ community. They run restaurants and bars, shops and galleries, gyms and bakeries, and everything in between. They are role models in their communities, proving to others that success is also within their reach.

The success of small businesses like theirs will be key to Canada’s inclusive economic recovery in the coming months. Economic factors aside, they are also pillars of their communities, providing vital hubs for residents to connect and engage with each other.

Over the past few challenging months, Futurpreneur has supported many of the entrepreneurs in our network. We’ve developed collaborative peer-to-peer support networks and webinars, and, thanks to critical funding from the federal government, were also able to offer critical financial support—six months of loan payment coverage for all of our 3,200 current entrepreneur clients and interest-free top-up loans of up to $10,000 for eligible clients. To date, I’m happy to report that we’ve supported 600 companies located in every province across Canada with top-up financing, helping them manage through this difficult time.

We’re also taking a deep look at our role in fostering diversity and inclusion within Futurpreneur and in our communities, examining our organization and programs, listening to and learning from our employees and committing to the actions we will take so we can play a meaningful part in the positive changes Canada needs.

In June, as we celebrated National Indigenous History Month, we partnered with the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA) to launch an Indigenous program to support even more ambitious, young, Indigenous entrepreneurs, pairing the financing, mentorship and support tools we offer with workshops, events and an Indigenous Facebook community that saw more than 150 people join in its first week.

Despite this being an extraordinarily challenging period for small business owners, the signs are very encouraging that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well across Canada. We’ve seen restaurants launch successfully during the pandemic and heard many stories of pivoting to new business models.

Canada’s young, diverse entrepreneurs are keen to continue charting their own paths to success, and we’re just as eager to help them get there, positioning them for growth as the economy rebuilds in the months ahead. After all, their success is Canada’s success.