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IRP Stories: Afro Caribbean Business Network Foundation's New Social Enterprise Supports Black Entrepreneurs, Building Wealth

COMMUNITY FOUNDATIONS OF CANADA  OCTOBER 27, 2020

This is part of our Investment Readiness Program series, showcasing how IRP funding is helping social purpose organizations prepare for investment while continuing to have a positive impact on their communities.

Based in Brampton, Ontario, the Afro Caribbean Business Network Foundation (ACBN) supports entrepreneurs of African and Caribbean heritage by providing networking opportunities, workshops and resources. The organization is now launching its first social enterprise, and as an Investment Readiness Program (IRP) recipient, has received funding to become investment ready.

ACBN was co-founded in 2018 by serial entrepreneur, Ryan Knight. In just two years, it has supported over 3000 entrepreneurs. Knight, ACBN’s president, says the organization’s focus isn’t just to help businesses scale — it also empowers entrepreneurs to “start legacy-building, leaving that asset to their children or community.”

Through his work, Knight realized many business owners were struggling with marketing. This sparked an idea. He explains, “If we put together a social enterprise that could do robust marketing for business owners, while hiring talent within the community, we’d be able to help [the community] become more sustainable, while helping businesses create productive marketing campaigns.”

The marketing agency will also advocate for mental health, with a focus on supporting Black men. “[It’s about] making sure that they understand their mental health and stressors, doing weekly workshops so that it’s addressed.”

ACBN is currently a volunteer-based non-profit. “The main driver of creating [the marketing agency] is so that ACBN will be sustainable on its own,” Knight says. Part of the social enterprise’s profits will go to ACBN, helping it to further reduce inequality while creating economic prosperity for the community. For ACBN’s impact to scale, the social enterprise needs to grow — and this is where the IRP plays a role.

ACBN Receives $21,000 to Get Investment Ready

By providing $21,000 in funding, the IRP is helping ACBN prepare to pitch to investors. The organization is using the capital to create a marketing and business plan, to demonstrate its viability. ““If we can show [investors] that this is structured in a way that’s profitable, they will [see that they can] get a return from it,” Knight says.

Through the IRP, ACBN hired a business development consultant to map “how this could actually get to market,” Knight says. “What kind of companies would be interested in a marketing agency that works specifically with Black talent in the community, and how do we recruit Black talent to be part of the agency?”

He continues, “Having a robust marketing strategy, understanding the legal implications, putting together the financial modeling to show the potential growth of the agency — we’ll be able to position ourselves to launch. The IRP was great because, if we just did this all from scratch on our own, it would take years to complete. It really pushed the fast-forward button.”

Reflecting on what makes the social enterprise attractive to investors, Knight says, “It’s a win-win on both sides — for the businesses that we can do campaigns for, and the talent that is on our vendor list. If we can execute on those two fronts, then the Black community would see a real resurgence in economic development. If we get that foundation of economic development solid and strong, then we can address a lot of the other verticals in the Black community that need support, as well.”

Knight continues, “A lot of times when you launch a business that supports the community, if it fails, it deflates people instead of inspiring them. We want to put our best foot forward. The IRP is the perfect platform for us to really approach this in the best way.”

Looking to the Future

Once the IRP-funded assets are in place, Knight says the next step is to start engaging clients — and the pandemic has amplified the need for the agency’s services. “Business owners had to shift online, and a lot of them didn’t have a strong presence online. Coming out of COVID, we will be able to identify who is still struggling, and approach them first.”

ACBN has been researching how COVID-19 impacted Black-owned businesses. “Governments and organizations realized that nobody was mapping the Black business landscape,” Knight says. “It came down to us to find out, and that became the blueprint of what is happening in the Black community. I feel like our place is to now amplify the research in that field.”

The federal government recently announced a multi-million dollar program, helping Black entrepreneurs access business loans and other supports. “There’s no database to say ‘here are all the Black entrepreneurs that need it’,” Knight says. “I’m really hoping that this announcement allows for that research to happen. With our grassroots and bootstrapping, we’re going to try and do the best research that we can. We want to be part of the solution to gather that data, but also part of the solution to execute on developing businesses. We want to play that role.”

Nickie Shobeiry is a writer, TV host and journalist, focusing on stories of social impact and entrepreneurship in Canada and beyond.