In Keenan Pascal's seven years in Edmonton's startup community, there weren't many Black entrepreneurs he could find to reach out to for support and mentorship.
Now, through a new program, Pascal hopes to give back and provide a leg up for other Black business people around the city.
Startup Edmonton launched Foundations for Black Founders this summer to offer business classes with mentorship and stories from successful Black company founders.
Pascal is one of those mentors. The CEO and founder of a pair of startup companies, Token Naturals and Token Bitters, he felt it was important to give back to the community.
"Opening these doors and having this ability to go out and say, 'Hey, you don't always have to do it by yourself, here's a group and a network and a community that's back behind you,' it'll just open a lot of doors for them," Pascal said in an interview Wednesday with CBC's Edmonton AM.
There's a gap for many Black entrepreneurs to find community space and raise social capital to support their projects, Pascal said.
Many might not have connections to secure grants or get their work off the ground, which he said makes the assistance from Startup Edmonton's mentors important.
Aatif Baskanderi, director of Startup Edmonton, said the organization set up a series of roundtables with Black entrepreneurs to learn about their needs and get community-driven recommendations for their own programs.
Baskanderi said demand for Foundations for Black Founders has been surprising. The program was full within four days of first being offered.
Reaching out to other communities
Startup Edmonton is continuing to reach out to groups it sees as underrepresented in the city's startup community. Already, a series of roundtable discussions has been held with Indigenous entrepreneurs.
"We are actively reaching out to communities of people that may not see themselves with how they plug into the startup ecosystem in Edmonton," Baskanderi said.
"How do we connect them in, welcome them into the space and give them the supports that they need?"
Pascal started meeting with participants in the program this month.
He said he's already talked with them about being the only Black person in a networking room, about how to work the system, and about stumbling blocks he's faced and how they can avoid making the same mistakes.
"I think it'll just make their future business ventures a little smoother," he said.
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.