Accelerator for Black-led startups launching in the Prairies

A new accelerator for Black-led startups and tech-enabled businesses in Western Canada is launching on Nov. 15, led by the Black Business Ventures Association (BBVA).

The Black Seed Accelerator will help early-stage Black founders with the mentorship, advisory, educational, and financial resources that they need to grow their businesses in a scalable and effective way.

Sahr Saffa, a serial entrepreneur who works in Edmonton, is one of the program's coaches. He told Taproot that startups need resources to grow, and the earliest stages of startup funding often come from friends and family members.

But for Black-led business, that's even more of a challenge, he said.

"The resources needed for them to start their business are very difficult to attain, given they generally don't have uncles, cousins, or aunts who have a few thousand dollars they can invest," Saffa said.

"Also, other avenues of financing — banks, angel investors, grant funding — generally don't have individuals in leadership positions that look, talk, and walk like these Black founders, making it increasingly difficult for capital to be raised.

"At the end of the day, investing is a very emotional game and if a founder isn't able to emotionally connect with an investor on various fronts, it's almost difficult for them to secure any level of financing."

Sahr Saffa

Sahr Saffa is the product marketing manager with Sauce Labs. (BBVA)

Saffa added that a program like this is particularly important in Edmonton because, according to Statistics Canada, the city is expected to have one of the "biggest pockets of first- and second-generation immigrants by 2036."

"I have experienced the stealth racism and lack of access to financial resources growing up as a Black serial entrepreneur in Edmonton," said Saffa, who is now a product marketing manager with Sauce Labs and co-founder of IPEX.

He wants to use those experiences and the skills he's gained building successful startups to help others achieve their goals as entrepreneurs.

BBVA expects to announce the first cohort of entrepreneurs selected from Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan on Nov. 2 or 3. The program is free, remote, and participants do not have to give up any equity to take part.