A business incubator for Black entrepreneurs is ready to launch in Waterloo Region, with its first cohort of aspiring business owners to be accepted as early as 2022.
The Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region (CCAWR) is set to begin its incubator program LiftOff, which aims to support Black businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators. The announcement for this program was made back in March 2021.
CCAWR is partnering with many local organizations and post-secondary schools, including University of Waterloo’s Velocity space, Waterloo Region Small Business Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Centre and Conestoga College. LiftOff will receive $2.9 million in funding from the National Empowerment Fund (NEF), a driver for Black economic participation and funding.
“We’re beyond excited,” said Trevor Charles, a board member with the CCAWR and professor of biology at the University of Waterloo in a CBC article. “We are honoured to have been given the opportunity to work to bridge some of the gaps within the entrepreneurial ecosystem that have hindered full participation by Black Canadians. Through the LiftOff program, we will endeavour to develop and offer innovative strategies to stimulate sustainable economic prosperity and wellbeing in the Black communities.”
LiftOff will be employing six full-time staff and numerous part-time mentors and coaches who will be based out of Velocity. Charles told CBC he hopes that the incubator will boost representation of Black entrepreneurs in the world of business, by connecting them with the resources they need to succeed.
“A lot of it really is about access, and getting out some of those barriers that have excluded Black Canadians from being involved in these networks,” said Charles.
While the incubator is spread across the Region of Waterloo, most of its programming will be based in Conestoga College’s Venture Lab, which Rose Mastnak, the director of the Conestoga Entrepreneurship Collective described to CBC as a “universal business incubator” that can work with any type of business. Venture Lab will pair new entrepreneurs with coaches who’ll help them with short and long-term goals.
“That’s pretty critical for the LiftOff program because they’re going to be getting entrepreneurs coming in with everything from restaurants, to tech ideas, to e-commerce — it’s going to be a wide range,” said Mastnak in the CBC article.
Anyone who identifies as Black and has a business idea can apply for LiftOff by contacting CCAWR, who will interview candidates to make sure the program is a good fit. The incubator ultimately hopes to work with about 40 individuals or teams per year, with no age restrictions and a strong emphasis on female entrepreneurs.
“We would like to encourage as many women as possible to apply,” Charles said.
More information can be found on the incubator’s Instagram page, @liftoff_ccawr.