Raheem Younes is freshly motivated to build his new contracting business in his hometown of Windsor, knowing now that he is part of a larger network of Black entrepreneurs in the region.
The Southwestern Ontario Black Entrepreneurship Network (SWOBEN) was launched in Windsor Tuesday at Art Windsor-Essex.
More than 100 entrepreneurs and business owners, along with students, community members and organizations gathered for the launch of the program, which was made possible through a non-repayable $1.9-million investment from FedDev Ontario earlier this year. It's part of a larger federal initiative, the Black Entrepreneurship Program, launched to support founders like Younes.
"I feel like it's extremely important," he said.
"I don't have to feel like I'm the only person doing this, especially with my ethnic background, and I feel like there is a strong support system out there now."
Younes moved back to Windsor after spending most of his growing up years throughout the United States, particularly because it's where his roots lie.
"I would absolutely love this to be a family business. There's a lot of construction that does go on in Windsor. Since I started this business, I've only had one week off."
For Younes, this is the first time he has seen a program like this, and it's one he wishes was available to him when he was younger.
Members of the program will have access to mentorship, development opportunities and more chances to network and build community. The program is being led by Hamilton-based Empowerment Squared, in partnership with WETech Alliance.
Tech founder Phillip Olla said that there is a need for this type of resource for Black entrepreneurs in Windsor-Essex.
"I am very proud to be part of an initiative that provides services to Black-led initiatives. Economic empowerment requires that Black communities be economically educated to run successful entrepreneurial ventures," said Olla.
Organizers are encouraging Black business owners and budding entrepreneurs from all industries in Windsor-Essex are welcome to join the network as more of the program unfolds in months to come, either through Empowerment Squared or WETech Alliance.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.