Halifax organization offers support and programs for Black, Indigenous and racialized entrepreneurs

A local organization works to support Black, Indigenous and racialized entrepreneurs by offering networking events and programs.

Alfred Burgesson is the founder and CEO of Tribal Network, who held a series of networking sessions across Atlantic Canada this spring.

“We wanted the people who enroll to play a role in the design of our program. And so we put on tours to give them that opportunity,” Burgesson said.

Alfred Burgesson is the founder and CEO of Tribe Network. Photo: Tribal Network.

Burgesson said they are still sifting through feedback from these networking events and hope to have a final report available online by mid-July. He said there will soon be courses on the network platform so people can access the training at their own pace.

“It’s something we heard on the roadshow: ‘We don’t just want to sign up for a Zoom meeting once a week,'” Burgesson said of the comments. “We want to be able to access content at our own pace. If we can’t run the Zoom meeting on a Friday, we want to be able to access the content at 3 a.m. on Sunday.'”

The Black Startup Project is one of the programs offered by Tribe Network. This project has three components for those who sign up: Start, Create, and Accelerate. Entrepreneurs may be eligible for mentorship and funding under the project. Burgesson said more than 280 black entrepreneurs have signed up for the Black Start-Up Project.

“I would say by August we should have money to help black entrepreneurs with some of their business needs,” Burgesson said.

He said the tour’s networking events were also meant to help shape how the Black Start-Up project and future programs will be implemented and rolled out.

“If you want to do it, do it.”

Four black people on stools participate in a round table.

Georges Nana, Olaitan Onyebuoha and Clinton Davis take part in a panel discussion for Tribe Network, moderated by Lily Lynch. Photo: Tribal Network.

Clinton Davis is a former independent hip-hop artist and has a degree in audio engineering. His first business was a recording studio in Toronto. Davis and his wife, Saly, now own and operate a salon, spa and online store in Moncton.

Davis was one of many Black Canadian entrepreneurs who participated in networking events hosted by Tribe Network. He was also one of three panelists at the inaugural networking event in April in Moncton.

This event included a networking session, guest lectures and panel discussions where groups would discuss the challenges faced by Black entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada.

“It was just meant to bring people together,” Davis said. “There were a lot of names, numbers and business cards exchanged.”

The black man smiles for the camera.

Clinton Davis was a panelist at Tribe Network’s first networking event. Photo: Tribal Network.

Davis said he has since met several people who have asked for mentorship.

“My main message was to never be afraid to go out there and do it, to be an entrepreneur. I talked about some of the challenges, some of the lessons that I learned. But my main message was: if you think you want to be an entrepreneur, if you want to do it, do it. It’s not as scary as it sounds.”

“Two out of 10 businesses may fail. In most cases, entrepreneurs can stop running a business, they can start other businesses, but even if the business fails, it does not mean that it destroys the person.

A room full of black attendees take part in a networking event hosted by the Tribe Network to help shape the Black Start-Up Project

Participants take part in a networking event hosted by Tribe Network to help shape the Black Start-Up Project. Photo: Tribal Network.

Burgesson’s interest in entrepreneurship began in high school, but he said it was while he was in college and participating in programs to help grow his digital media business that he found that his needs were not being met as a black entrepreneur.

“I think a lot of black entrepreneurs trying to venture into the ecosystem are facing issues where all these accelerators and incubators and innovation hubs, a lot of them are funded by taxpayer dollars” , Burgesson said. “And when you approach them, they’re not making up what Canada looks like.”

He said he often felt like he didn’t belong and the experience was isolating.

“If I’m building a business that’s supposed to serve black people, how can I get advice on how to serve black people from someone who’s not black or [doesn’t know] the black experience? It’s very difficult to get relevant advice for building a business when the people giving that advice don’t know anything about the community you’re trying to serve. »

In the summer of 2020, Burgesson worked on a contract with the Senate of Canada and the African-Canadian Senate Group. Through this program, they worked with black organizations across the country to identify barriers. Burgesson helped design a survey organizations gave to its members.

“We’ve identified some of the gaps in the entrepreneurship ecosystem for black entrepreneurs,” he said. “And those were all things that I knew existed. The government needs reports to justify some of its actions.

At the end of the contract, Burgesson said that having his entrepreneurial experience validated by other Black Canadian entrepreneurs across the country through the data he collected inspired him to start Tribe Network.

In the fall of 2021, Tribe Network received a federal grant for three years of funding to hire staff and run programs such as the Black Start-Up Project.

People sit at tables while listening to a presentation.  On one of the tables is a sign saying "The black experience."

Participants take part in a networking event hosted by Tribe Network to help shape the Black Start-Up Project. Photo: Tribal Network.

“A lot of these contractor-serving organizations have programs that will often be set up in such a way that there’s a case manager across the organization who works directly with all of the contractors,” Burgesson said. “There are rarely opportunities for entrepreneurs to work together and support each other.”

Burgesson said he personally learned a lot more when he met with other black entrepreneurs to understand the barriers they faced.

“We’ve been able to create a network where black and indigenous people sign up on the platform and we can serve them by providing them with resources, but I think there’s a lot of value in having the members themselves can also share information with each other and kind of overcome that feeling of isolation from being an entrepreneur, but also being a black entrepreneur in Atlantic Canada.

A graphic that says Funded by Canada

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Aubrey L. Morgan