American Express Canada Launches Mentorship and Grant Program to Support BIPOC Entrepreneurs


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With Blueprint: Backing BIPOC Businesses, Amex Canada is providing 100 BIPOC entrepreneurs with mentorship opportunities and $1,000,000 in grants to fuel growth. 

It’s no secret that BIPOC entrepreneurs face barriers when it comes to starting a business. From financing to mentorship, the startup ecosystem has historically been (and continues to be) skewed against BIPOC communities through discrimination, systemic racism, and a lack of diversity in higher decision-making positions.

Even after finding success, BIPOC entrepreneurs often discover that they are the only person of colour in the room in professional circles. But things are changing—and for the better.

2020 brought a reckoning upon the world. Not only were we faced with a global pandemic, but social justice issues rose to the forefront of every conversation. Chief among those were conversations about supporting BIPOC-owned businesses and addressing the gaps that can hinder a BIPOC entrepreneur’s success. Corporations, policy makers, and decision-makers were all put under the spotlight to provide actionable plans on how they would better support BIPOC staff, entrepreneurs, and organizations. 

A recent study was commissioned by Amex Canada to better understand the barriers and opportunities BIPOC business owners currently face—and the results were telling. With 1124 Canadian business owner respondents (596 identified as BIPOC, 528 identified as white), results showed that nearly 66 percent of BIPOC entrepreneurs in Canada have difficulty accessing capital and financing—a stark contrast to 45 percent of white entrepreneurs who felt the same way. Additionally, 51 percent of BIPOC entrepreneurs said that they had difficulty accessing networking opportunities compared to just 36 percent of white entrepreneurs.

quote in blue writing on yellow backgroundTo make matters more complicated, 75 percent of BIPOC entrepreneurs said that access to capital was the most important need for success in their business. If two-thirds of BIPOC entrepreneurs have difficulty accessing capital, where does that leave them?

This year, many organizations have stepped up to help level the entrepreneurial playing field. Blueprint: Backing BIPOC Businesses is one such example, launched by Amex Canada and powered by the DMZ, a leading business incubator. The initiative is the latest in Amex’s efforts to support small businesses and champion a more inclusive and diverse business ecosystem in Canada. 

The 15-week cohort-based program (which you can apply to here) will see 100 BIPOC business owners gain access to $10,000 each and a plethora of resources. Blueprint will connect participants with mentors to provide counsel on topics ranging from sales and marketing to talent management and operations. In addition, participating entrepreneurs will gain access to one-on-one coaching sessions, group learning seminars, workshops, and a self-directed learning platform to help spur business growth.

Dwain Neckles (Vice President, Head, Large Enterprises & Global Client Group, American Express Canada) is a mentor to up-and-coming BIPOC talent himself. He knows how important it is to provide guidance, support, and advice to new entrepreneurs.

“Compared to white business owners, more BIPOC entrepreneurs lack access to networking opportunities and meaningful mentorship to help guide their decision-making,” he says.

He continues, “We hope that providing additional support and guidance through mentorship, access to networking opportunities, and a community of like-minded peers, will have a meaningful impact on program participants for the long-term, helping to set them up for success as they continue to evolve and grow their businesses.”

Neckles looks forward to seeing how the Blueprint program can add to diversity and inclusion within the Canadian entrepreneurial community, and uplift BIPOC business owners.

“I believe that actions speak louder than words. Sustained, continued action is critical to demonstrating a true commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” says Neckles. “With Blueprint, we’re committed to creating a program that will have a real impact on BIPOC business owners. And to do this, we took the time to do our homework through research aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of the experiences of BIPOC business owners in today’s landscape. As well, every aspect of Blueprint was developed with the counsel of our community partners.” 

In addition to the mentorship aspect, Blueprint will grant selected participants $10,000 to help fuel the growth and success of their business. To increase awareness of the opportunity, Amex has teamed up with beloved basketball superstar and entrepreneur Fred VanVleet to help spread the word.

Fred VanVleet quote“I know firsthand that running a business is tough, but for BIPOC business owners facing barriers every day, sometimes passion isn’t enough,” says VanVleet. “The truth is BIPOC business owners face barriers that white entrepreneurs don’t… It can be very hard to acquire the resources, support, and connections that you might need to fast track your business.”

VanVleet, who is known for his business ventures on top of being a star on the basketball court, is excited to be a part of a program and understands the challenges that come with being a BIPOC business owner. 

“It’s important for me to support BIPOC entrepreneurs through my everyday life. I made a conscious decision about three years ago to start being very decisive and intentional about supporting BIPOC businesses,” he says. “There are key ingredients to running a successful operation, from capital, to mentorship, to having the support of other business owners who understand your day-to-day challenges, and the Blueprint program hits all of them. I’m excited to be a part of helping to spread the word about the program.”

As the world looks towards a brighter, post-COVID-19 future, we can also look forward to, hopefully, a more diversified and inclusive business landscape. The work towards equity is far from done, but programs like Amex’s Blueprint will help Canada get one step closer to a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable society.

Do you know someone—or are you someone—that could benefit from the Blueprint program? Apply now by visiting Applications close on July 27. Eligibility criteria and terms apply.