Black Pitch Contest Offers $25,000 to Winning British Columbia Entrepreneur

This is the second Black Pitch Contest; the first attracted 130 participants

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Starting any new business is difficult. But if you’re black, it can be even more daunting, especially if you’re an immigrant.

Recognizing this, the Black Business and Entrepreneurs Society of Canada, a non-profit organization, started the Black Pitch Competition, where Black entrepreneurs pitch their idea for a business. The winner takes home $25,000, which can be crucial to getting a small business off the ground.

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“Getting the $25,000 could be a game-changer,” explains Jackee Kasandy, CEO and co-founder of the society. “You can pay your taxes, you can pay your staff. If you are a juice company, you can buy the juicer. That allows you to scale your business and put your juices in Loblaws, Superstore and all the other places.”

Kasandy knows this firsthand: it was extremely difficult for her to obtain financing for her business, Kasandywhich sells fair trade products made by African artisans on Granville Island.

“Even now, although my company is medium to large in size, I still cannot easily access financing here,” said Kasandy, originally from Kenya.

The first Black Pitch contest attracted 130 participants from across Canada. This year they hope to equal that figure or even double it. Details on how to participate can be found in the Society of Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada website, and five finalists will be chosen to give their presentations in person at a Black Business Summit at Emily Carr University on May 24-25.

Nadine Umutoni is one of the people entering this year.

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“I moved to Canada 17 years ago,” said the Rwandan immigrant. “I always wanted to start a coffee company and finally in 2021 I launched neza coffee. We are an organic and fair trade coffee from Rwanda; “We roast and package (the coffee) here.”

Coffee is part of Umutoni’s heritage; his family grew it in Rwanda.

“Rwanda is called the country of 1,000 hills; we are surrounded by hills,” he said. “Because of that (geography) we get very good coffee, premium coffee. The feedback I get from my customers is that they don’t need cream to fully enjoy a cup of Neza coffee. That’s the main difference”.

He sources his coffee from his family and neighbors in Rwanda who still have farms there.

Unfortunately, many members of his family died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis were killed.

“During the genocide against the Tutsis I lost a large part of my family,” he says. “I lost my three brothers, my two sisters, my mother, my grandmothers. But Rwanda right now is doing very, very well. “It is one of the safest and cleanest countries in Africa.”

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Like many immigrants, he has worked many jobs since moving to Canada; He still has another job besides his coffee company.

He has found it difficult to obtain financing for his company.

“I talk to my other business friends who are not black or immigrants, and it’s definitely difficult (for them),” he said.

“But for a black person it is more difficult. “There are some systemic biases that make it difficult for us to get funding.”

But she is determined to make Neza café a success. The company makes a medium and dark roast that is available online, at the Vancouver Farmers Market and in select Safeway stores.

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Nadine Umutoni with her Neza coffee in New Westminster on January 31. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG
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Jackee Kasandy at his Granville Island store, Kasandy | Locally and globally, on February 16, 2022. Photo by Mike Bell /PNG

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