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The expansion comes after the federal government chose the BBI as a delivery organization for the Black Entrepreneurship Program (BEP) Ecosystem in Atlantic Canada.
The BEP is a four-year partnership between the Government of Canada, black-led business organizations, and financial institutions.
The program gives loans of up to $250,000 to Black entrepreneurs and supports the Black business community through things like a knowledge hub and funding for support organizations like the BBI.
The BBI is a not-for-profit dedicated to supporting and growing Nova Scotia’s Black business community. The organization has been around for 25 years, making it Canada’s longest-serving Black business development initiative.
“We were doing this work when it wasn’t fashionable; we were doing it when there was still a significant need for that work,” Rustum Southwell says with a chuckle.
Southwell is the BBI’s founding CEO. He says he’s excited the BBI can finally expand beyond the confines of Nova Scotia.
Njabulo Nkala is the BBI’s director of innovation and growth and is leading the organization’s expansion efforts.
He says expanding into New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and PEI is “a natural next step” for the BBI.
As the oldest Black business development organization in the country, the BBI has received a lot of interest over the years from entrepreneurs across the country. However, Nkala says they weren’t always able to help as much as they liked because they were confined to Nova Scotia.
Now, that will change.
As it works to help deliver the government’s BEP programs, the BBI is setting up offices in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Moncton, New Brunswick. It’s also putting people on the ground in PEI.
That new presence will grow the BBI from a staff of around 10 people to more than 20.
Already, Nkala says the new hires are doing needs assessments in the new communities to uncover exactly what kind of support Black entrepreneurs there need.
“This is an important step and almost a manifestation of the work that we’ve done over 25 years,” Southwell says.
He says he’s proud of the growth he’s seen in the Black business community in the 25 years since the BBI was established.
In the 90s, he says, the BBI did a lot of work guiding entrepreneurs into “blue ocean” industries and helping them with their business planning. Today, he says the BBI’s clients have a better understanding of their businesses, they ask better questions, and they’re better prepared.
Some still face real, systematic barriers, like access to capital and investment, making programs like the BEP necessary. However, Nkala says many are still finding success.
“When we started, one of the things that was identified was a lack of Black role models in business. And thanks to entrepreneurs like Glen Carvery [of Carvery’s Construction] and the work that we’ve done… some of those role models have been brought to the forefront,” he says.
“So, when you’re talking to young people about entrepreneurship, you’re able to bring them in front of those kids and they can help them.”
The Black Entrepreneurship Program is only a four-year program but the BBI says it expects to maintain its expanded presence in Atlantic Canada even after the federal money dries up.
Nkala believes there is “a lot of potential that has not been tapped in a lot of these areas.”
“For us, it’s like an oyster that’s opening with all these business ideas and businesses that are flourishing and now they can become a part of our business pool,” he says.
Trevor Nichols is the associate editor of Huddle, based in Halifax. Send him your feedback and story ideas: [email protected].
Featured, Halifax, News, Nova Scotia
Halifax, Moncton, New Brunswick, News, Nova Scotia
Featured, Moncton, New Brunswick, News
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