Black women entrepreneurs lack access to capital, mentorship, report says

HALIFAX — When Chantal Carter was pitching what would become Love and Nudes to a possible investor before the launch of the brand, his concerns about the size of the lingerie line took her aback.

"He said that it was … too many different colours to carry in a retail store, and I couldn't understand why he would say that," Chantal Carter said in an interview.

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Chantal Carter, CEO of the lingerie brand that caters to darker skin tones, said the investor's comment has stuck with her since the start of her brand in 2017, a brand she created to address the gap in nude underwear options that largely caters to customers with fairer skin.

"There's pink bras, there's red bras, there's blue bras, there's purple bras, why can't there be a range of brown bras?" she said.

"In that moment, I felt like he was telling me, 'You don't matter. You or your people's needs don't matter'."

Chantal Carter is one of several Black women in Canada's business landscape who have had to contend with barriers to funding, according to a new report.

The new study, produced by Toronto-based market research firm Pitch Better, is based on an online survey of more than 1,500 Black women-led for-profit and non-profit businesses in Canada.

Adeela Carter and Amoye Henry, the co-founders of Pitch Better, said in an interview the study was put together to fill a gap in the information about Black women-led businesses in Canada (Adeela Carter is not related to Chantal Carter).

The report found Black women often struggle with a lack of networks and mentorship, which results in lower yields for their business ventures.

Survey respondents also reported that the under-representation of Black women in business and customer bias against Black-owned businesses have negatively impacted their ability to navigate the Canadian business landscape.

"We don't really have the programs and the solutions to support being underbanked and underfunded entrepreneurs," Henry said in an interview. "Systemic anti-Black racism is certainly one of the critical issues here, as well as the lack of network, exposure, connections, resources and capital."

Differences in perception across racial and ethnic groups are contributing to unique hurdles faced by Black businesswomen, the report said.

The report referenced a U.S. study that found "Black women startup founders raise $36,000 on average, while the average (mostly white male-led) failed startup raises $1.3 million."

More than 43 per cent of the respondents reported raising no external funding in the creation of their businesses, and at least a third of respondents never take advantage of funding programs.

"The entrepreneurship experience is really just a (microcosm) into the larger challenges in society as it pertains to systemic racism," Henry said.

Chantal Carter said she's seen the difference in reception between white and Black business people in her own experiences.

"Sometimes we have to do backflips to get something, whereas our white counterparts may not have to do that," she said. "They're questioned less because of what they look like."

Kendra Francis, founder of the sustainable baby clothing brand Petits Genoux, said despite several years in the Canadian fashion scene, she's also had to combat perceptions of her brand because she's a Black woman.

"We've had to earn more, do more, do it all our selves," she said. "We've had to educate ourselves in every aspect of the brand for people to take us seriously."

In Chantal Carter's case, this meant raising cash via a crowdfunding campaign for the first production run of the Love and Nudes line and since then, most of her funding has been "bootstrapped" she said, meaning that she's built the company from the ground up with little more than her own capital.

The top three reasons respondents said they didn’t apply for funding were a lack of awareness of available programs, not meeting the eligibility requirements and frustration over past outcomes with the application process.

Along with the launch of the report, Pitch Better has begun an online dashboard, Foundhers, to connect Black women-owned businesses with a network including mentors and investors.

"Now that we have a report like this and we can give Black women entrepreneurs access to this information, we're hoping that things will change, doors will open, there will be access to more opportunities," Adeela Carter said.

Henry echoed the sentiment and said she also hopes the data will inspire conversations on ways to back Black women-owned business in science, technology and other industries that "yield high growth and high revenue," in response to a statistic in the report that found over a quarter of the respondent's businesses fell within the "retail service" category.

Henry said she's ready to see "a targeted effort to really train and upskill Black women to be represented in the markets and in the industries where the money resides," adding that there is still work to be done in the research and support of Black women entrepreneurs.

"Black women make valuable contributions to the Canadian ecosystem and we shouldn't be an afterthought," she said. "There should always be room to explore how to support under-represented communities."

According to the polling industry’s generally accepted standards, online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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