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Business & Investment,  Startups

Forum brings together Montreal’s black business leaders, up-and-coming entrepreneurs

Event includes speeches and networking activities by and for black entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur D√©borah Cherenfant says the International Black Economic Forum in Montreal is needed to help create establish the city’s Black communities as an ‘economic force.’¬†(CBC)

Entrepreneurs, professionals, community organizers and university students gathered in Old Montreal this weekend to discuss empowering the city’s black communities and the issues they face¬†in the business world.

The¬†Black Economic Forum in Montreal¬†aims¬†to act as a catalyst for economic and entrepreneurial development in the city’s black communities and to fight inequities¬†in those spheres.

The event, in its second year, was held at the Montreal Science Centre and brought together forces in Montreal business, including Frantz Saintellemy, founder and CEO of Groupe 3737, an incubator for entrepreneurs in Saint-Michel, Amina Gerba, who created Afrique Expansion, and Ben Marc Diendéré, communications director of La Coop fédérée.

Quebec Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Dominique Anglade, who is of Haitian descent, also spoke at the forum and said afterward that she felt energized.

Quebec Deputy Premier Dominique Anglade says the government will be making an announcement on the subject of networks and mentorships in business for visible minorities. (CBC)

“You see people who really want to contribute. They really want to make a difference,”¬†Anglade¬†said.

Anglade said events like the forum are necessary in Quebec, where the economy’s growth and strength are not reflected¬†in the province’s visible minorities communities.

That includes for its black citizens, who experience higher levels of unemployment, she said.

Strong networks and mentorship needed

“When you look at the reasons why, it’s not because they don’t have the diplomas, it’s not because they don’t have the competencies or the expertise,” Anglade said.

“We really need to find way to fight those barriers and I think that’s why we need to have such an event.”

Anglade said networking events and mentorship for young people of colour who want to make it in business are crucial. She said the government will be making an announcement on the matter in the next few weeks.

The second annual Black Economic Forum is in the Montreal Science Centre this year. (CBC)

She cited¬†Saintellemy,¬†Gerba¬†and¬†Diend√©r√©¬†as role models for young people.¬†“People¬†don’t¬†know them as well as they should and this is an opportunity¬†to make them shine,” she said.

Déborah Cherenfant moved to Montreal 12 years ago from Haiti to study business and now runs a fashion and design company called Atelier Coloré.

She said it took her time to understand how to navigate the Canadian business world, where it can be difficult for black entrepreneurs to gain access to capital, especially when trying to start businesses in the food and clothing industries.

“I’ve been working in the field for the past eight years and there is systemic discrimination,”¬†Cherenfant¬†said.

Becoming an economic force

Cherenfant said she wasn’t surprised by the disparity in unemployment rates in the province, which have also¬†been highlighted in calls for the province to address systemic racism and discrimination in an inquiry.

That inquiry was launched last year, but the provincial government eventually rebranded the proceedings, giving them a new, less controversial mandate of finding ways to better integrate immigrants.

But Cherenfant¬†said the forum’s goal is to focus on the strengths of black communities.

The forum’s founcer, Kerlande Mibel, with Montreal Mayor Val√©rie Plante.¬†(CBC)

“We only focus on how we are going to reunite ourselves for how we are going to reunite ourselves for how we’re going to be an economic force,” she said.

She said the fact Dominique Anglade was at the forum¬†“gives a lot of inspiration to a lot of young women, young professionals to see that we have black leaders in place.”

With files from Arian Zarrinkoub and Radio-Canada

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