New research hub at Carleton sheds light on the experiences of Black entrepreneurs

The Black Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub is quietly taking shape at Carleton University as it prepares to embark on a multi-stakeholder approach to research that will benefit the Black business community.

In May 2021, against a backdrop of growing international conversations surrounding anti-Black racism, the federal government announced a three-pronged Black entrepreneurship program to help Black entrepreneurs grow their businesses. The three components were the Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund, the National Ecosystem Fund and the Black Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub. 

While the loan fund caused some questions and concerns in the Black community, the knowledge hub quietly launched this past January. Following a national competition that saw universities and community partners from Toronto, Quebec, the Maritimes and Western Canada vie to host the hub, the winning bid came from Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business and its partner, Dream Legacy Foundation. 

Aside from having a well-regarded geomatics research centre that has worked on similar large-scale national research projects in the past, Carleton put forward a highly collaborative approach in its winning bid.

“We put together a coalition of institutions and other supporters across the country,” explains Gerald Grant, co-director and co-academic lead on the project. “We had about 100 community supporters and 13 university partners. That was one of the requirements, so our bid was comprehensive.”

Also spearheading the project are executive director Andrea Pierce and co-director and co-academic lead Rick Colbourne, both of Carleton University, and Isaac Olowolafe Jr. of the Dream Legacy Foundation.

Gerald Grant
Gerald Grant, co-director, Black Entrepreneurship Hub. PHOTO SUPPLIED.

Under the three-year program, the hub will research and map Black entrepreneurship in Canada, including an interactive multimedia map, videos and photos, and a database of Black businesses across all industries. 

The team will rely on data analytics, interviews and other research methods to gain insights into Black entrepreneurship that go deeper than those typically provided by Statistics Canada.

Although a large-scale national qualitative and quantitative project may seem like a big undertaking, the team has partnered with a variety of stakeholders, including academic institutions and community groups that submitted rival proposals. 

“A lot of the research will be co-generated from the community,” Grant explains. “We have a network of research institutions that will be working with community partners in what we call regional hubs across the country, so research will be generated from the community up. One of our goals at the end of this program is to build capacity in communities to do research.” 

The team is keen to ensure the research has real benefit to the Black entrepreneurship community and the business community at large. Researchers will look at the barriers Black entrepreneurs face in accessing capital and why, and will be mindful of the regional realities of Black communities, from Vancouver to Toronto to Halifax, including cultural, historical and linguistic differences, with the ultimate goal of creating real change and impact for Black entrepreneurs.

“This isn’t about doing research for research’s sake,” Grant adds. “The whole partnership between us and a community organization like Dream Legacy Foundation is to build capacity in the Black community. Research will have to be relevant to Black entrepreneurship issues in the Black community; not just about the Black community, but with and for the Black community … Just having the research isn’t sufficient. The research needs to be mobilized to change things at institutional levels and within the community itself. There should be a net benefit to the Black community of that research. The research is only the first part of that, but driving change and policy at federal, provincial and municipal levels is really important to have an effect.”

The hub is currently in the startup phase, hiring new staff and soliciting research proposals from community partners. The end goal is to make the hub self-sustaining by building capacity and research partnerships.

For more information about the Black Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, visit bekh.org.