New network for Black business owners aims to make entrepreneurship a little less ‘lonely’

Even before starting her business, Cherie Warner-Richard said she had an “entrepreneurial bug.”

Growing up around her enterprising grandmother and “crafty” mother inspired her to become who she is today.

“I feel like they laid the groundwork for me to be brave enough to take on this challenge,” said Warner-RIchard, owner of Cee Wee Designs, a bag and accessories store.

Cee Wee Designs was among the companies launching the new Southwestern Ontario Black Entrepreneurship Network (SWOBEN), which aims to serve as a “dynamic resource for Black business owners, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit leaders.” in the Greater Hamilton and Windsor areas, according to them website.

From Tobago Island to Hamilton

Warner-Richard said her business started in her home on the island of Tobago about 10 years ago when she made a bag for herself.

“People saw it and they were like, ‘I like your bag. Where did you get it from?’ I said, ‘Oh, I made it.'”

She said that when people started asking if they could buy her one, she was confused, but thought, “You want me to make one and you pay me for it?”

As more and more people asked, Warner-Richard began to realize that maybe it wasn’t such a crazy idea.

Two women standing and smiling at the camera.
Warner-Richard, shown with a friend at the launch of SWOBEN, draws inspiration for the design of her bags and accessories from the “sunshine and bright colors” of her Caribbean home. (Cara Nickerson/CBC)

She started moving back and forth between Trinidad and Tobago and Canada eight years ago when she got married and eventually stayed in Hamilton.

Today, she sells her bags and accessories on her website.

She said her home inspires her designs.

“I’m from the Caribbean. We have a [bright] sun, we like bright colors… I like to create trendy pieces. I want you to like your bag, your earrings, whatever it is.”

“I was convinced that I had something”

For Beko Mbeko-Edem, who was also at the SWOBEN launch event on Dec. 5 in Hamilton, inspiration for his hot sauce company Beko Foods Inc. also comes from his family, as he grew up fascinated by cooking. .

At the age of four, Mbeko-Edem was already helping in the kitchen baking brownies.

But it wasn’t until he visited Nigeria as a child that he was truly blown away by the process of bringing food ‘from farm to table’.

A child sitting at a table, licking a spoon with a chocolate cake in front of him.
Since the age of four, and even before, Beko Mbeko-Edem, who now runs a hot sauce business, showed an interest in food and helped her mother make brownies. (Submitted by Beko Mbeko-Edem)

Mbeko-Edem graduated from Humber College in 2010 and decided he wanted to start a business.

“There was no representation of African food on a major level, or on a large scale. It was not researched in a way that was [accessible] to the public.”

He said he tried several different things, but in 2017 his third business attempt was successful.

A man posing behind a table full of his hot sauces and fries.
Mbeko-Edem says he knew he ‘had something’ trying to make the perfect hot sauce, after his first one didn’t sell well because it was ‘too hot’. (Submitted by Beko Mbeko-Edem)

“One day I decided to make a pepper sauce. I didn’t really sell anything, because it was too hot.

“But I was convinced I had something and I just decided to say, ‘You know what – I’m going to release that flavor there. “”

His hot sauces are now sold at several locations in the Hamilton and Toronto areas, including Nigerian restaurant Taste of Lagos, and through his own website.

A network for black entrepreneurs

The SWOBEN launch event also served as a pop-up market.

“Our goal is to see how we can empower black entrepreneurs to succeed in their field to become the best,” said Henry Elui, director at Empowerment Squared, which runs the network.

The network was funded through a $1.9 million federal government investment in Empowerment Squared.

“I really hope that as many entrepreneurs as possible can access the programs they are going to offer,” Warner-Richard said.

She added that, in her case, the manufacture of bags represents only half of the activity.

“You still need to learn the skills to do your accounting and your bookkeeping, to do your taxes or your contracts. So I’m really looking forward to taking the courses that [SWOBEN] will offer and the help they will provide to entrepreneurs. »

A man, speaking into a microphone.
Leo Nupolu Johnson, featured at the SWOBEN launch, says he hopes efforts like the network will continue to help entrepreneurs. (Cara Nickerson/CBC)

Elui said that programs like SWOBEN help black entrepreneurship, which is very “unique”.

“Entrepreneurship is a very lonely job, and good advice doesn’t mean you can excel.

“So that’s what we want to achieve with this…our strategy is to work with different partners and advisors who are consciously working with these companies to accelerate their goals.”

Leo Nupolu Johnson, executive director of Empowerment Squared, said he hopes events like December 5 “are not unique”.

“Hopefully we can take advantage of this opportunity to keep it going so that even after the life of this program the effort doesn’t stop.”

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(Radio Canada)