Meet the women behind Ottawa’s 3rd Black Business Expo

Lead organizer: ‘I would not be anywhere if it wasn’t for my team’

Cassandra Auguste-René Black Business Expo
Cassandra Auguste-René, owner of It's Time! Event Management, and her dedicated team of friends are organizing Ottawa's 3rd Black Business Expo scheduled for Sunday, April 14, at the Shaw Centre. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Next month, the Shaw Centre will serve as host venue for Ottawa’s 3rd Black Business Expo, providing an opportunity for the public to explore new products and services, connect with their community, enjoy local entertainment, and celebrate cultural diversity.

The event, set for Saturday, April 14, will feature between 130 and 150 vendors and is expected to attract more than 1,000 attendees, primarily from Ottawa’s Black community.

The business fair has come a long way in its three short years with its continuous growth and momentum, said lead organizer Cassandra Auguste-René, owner of It’s Time! Event Management. 

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Just the other day, she ran into a vendor who took part last year. “She told me, ‘Your event put me on the map!,’” recalled Auguste-René. “Hearing stories like that, you know, is exactly why we do this.”

Organizing the expo is by no means a one-woman show. Auguste-René is supported by a dedicated team of friends: Priska Even-Hen, Tatiana Amisial, Miriam Faraja, Martine St-Pierre, Mahalia Germain, Edmi Michel, Sagine Edouard and Lydia Guerrier, all of whom dedicate their time and skills.

Black business expo
Organizers of Ottawa’s Black Business Expo include (seated, left) Cassandra Auguste-René, owner of It’s Time! Event Management, Martine St-Pierre (seated, right), along with (standing, from left to right) Miriam Faraja, Priska Even-Hen, Tatiana Amisial, Mahalia Germain and Edmi Michel. Photo by Caroline Phillips

“I would not be anywhere if it wasn’t for my team.”

August-René runs her events management business in addition to her full-time job with the Department of National Defence. As well, she and her husband Pascal are the parents of two children and have opened their home to a foster youth. As an award-winning community leader, Auguste-René serves as president of the foster parent association for The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa. In 2022, she was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Black Women to Watch.

Auguste-René had always been interested in entrepreneurship but struggled to come up with a business idea. Then she remembered how much she enjoyed hosting special events, especially those involving her friends and family. “I am good at getting people together,” she acknowledged.

In 2019, she launched It’s Time Events Management with plans to organize a recognition night honouring some of the inspiring Black men in the community. Having grown up in a single-parent family herself, she valued the active involvement that she was witnessing from some of the young fathers in the Black community, including her own husband.

Unfortunately, Auguste-René’s plans were kiboshed by the pandemic. During the ensuing lockdowns and restrictions, her family frequently ordered take-out meals from their favourite multicultural restaurants. She discovered the establishments weren’t using online food delivery services because they couldn’t afford the delivery fees, however. That’s what led to her working with others to develop an app, cityflavas, to help promote the multicultural restaurants, which led to her wanting to do more to support Black-owned businesses in general.

“That’s basically how the first expo started,” the alumna of the University of Ottawa said of the inaugural event, held with 64 vendors in 2022 at the now-closed Tudor Hall.  “We thought that we wouldn’t have enough businesses, and we ended up selling out.”

In 2023, Auguste-René doubled the size of the expo and moved it to the larger EY Centre. There were vendors from such areas as beauty and wellness, legal and financial services, restaurants and catering, entertainment and events, and clothing and accessories. It also included young entrepreneurs.

“We had people coming to us and they were, like, ‘We needed something like this in the community, we needed something positive in the community.’”

It makes her and her team proud, she said, to know they’re creating a supportive space for Black-owned businesses and organizations. Having such a strong team of women helping to plan and run the event also leaves Auguste-René feeling deeply grateful. “These girls, my gosh. I can’t even speak to how it’s become their baby, as well.” 

She recalled how, on a recent vacation, her phone kept beeping with notifications from her team members, who were engaged in late-night discussions regarding event planning matters, despite her not being there to work on the event with them.

Many of her team members also work full-time jobs, with small businesses on the side. For example, Edmi Michel is in the process of launching her new Medi Athletic Wear sports bra. 

Her involvement with the Black Business Expo is fuelled by the “energetic, intelligent and go-getter” women with whom she works.

There’s power in numbers “when you have a group of women pushing you, elevating you and encouraging you further,” said Michel.

While the team members enjoy each other’s company, they also know how to buckle down. Said Michel: “When it comes to getting the work done, we get the work done.”

Organizers will come together at the Shaw Centre on the eve of the Black Business Expo to celebrate and recognize deserving Black community leaders and builders during a special recognition night. “It’s important to recognize people who have a daily impact,” said another of the team members, Miriam Faraja. “It’s not about popularity or who’s well known, it’s about the impact.”

Auguste-René said the business expo is very fortunate to have the support of the Black community, particularly from such individuals as Trevor Mason, better known as DJ Mace, Chnge Mker Innovation Hub founder and CEO Mona Abow, and Ottawa city councillor Rawlson King, who appreciates the expo’s commitment to diversity and economic empowerment. 

I am ready for the 3rd Annual Ottawa Black Business Expo to ignite our community with innovation and inspiration,” King told OBJ via email. “This vibrant event transcends boundaries, bringing together entrepreneurs, professionals and community members in a dynamic showcase of excellence. 

“From cutting-edge technology to delectable cuisine, the expo promises an electrifying fusion of talent and ambition. I am extremely excited to witness the event in the Shaw Centre for the first time and experience unforgettable networking, discovery and empowerment, as Ottawa comes together to celebrate the rich tapestry of Black businesses and culture in our city.”

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