The Black Founders’ Network (BFN) is an inclusive community at U of T that was created to provide budding Black entrepreneurs with the network and resources they need to bring their startups to life. The network serves to connect an underrepresented community and help bridge the divide between resources, wealth, status, and more. Sponsors range from KPMG to our very own University Of Toronto Entrepreneurship (UTE) program.
This October, the BFN is celebrating their first anniversary, which they commemorated at Convocation Hall on October 18. During the event, entrepreneurs had the opportunity to share their success stories about their startups and recap their experience at BFN over the past year.
BFN startup founders came from various backgrounds and brought diverse ideas and passions to the table. There were semi professional athletes, neuroscientists, chemists, and more in attendance. Despite the diversity of their professional fields, the attendees were all united with the same purpose — to unite Black founders as they set out on their entrepreneurial journey.
Serving an underserved community
While founders pitched their startup ideas, it became evident that the event was not about startups or an anniversary celebration but more about providing for an underserved market. The Black community is challenged by disproportionate access to everyday services that other communities take for granted. This access issue could be due to financial or supply-side issues.
Often, services specialized for Black people are unaffordable or simply not adequately available. This can be seen in the health-care field, or even in cosmetic care. BFN’s startups strive to solve a number of these accessibility issues.
Aworie is a startup that offers low-cost mental health services to people who are solely dependent on their income, thus ensuring that everyone has equal access to these services. Fyyne is another BFN-born startup that connects people with specialized beauty needs, such as connecting someone who needs an afro to a cosmetologist who can do that.
Nobel is a startup and service provider. During their presentation, it was made clear that the Black business ecosystem needs to be strengthened through collaboration. Money circulates from consumers to corporations, as one man’s spending is the next man’s income. According to Nobel, money stays within the Black community for six hours while circulating in other communities for over 20 days.
BFN works to break inequities and barriers blocking the community from success and recognizes that systemic changes should be made to build a more equitable future for all. The income disparity alone is enough to hold communities and people back for decades.
Ideation and beyond
The network has three primary services: BFN Core, BFN Accelerate, and BFN Scale. These services are tailored to the stage of the entrepreneurial journey that each startup is on.
BFN Core offers one-on-one training, up to $5,000 in grants, and assistance finding founders and teammates. These businesses are often in the ideation stage, where money and human capital are scarce.
BFN Accelerate is a proper accelerator, providing up to $25,000 in grants and expertise that work in tandem with UTE. Participation in this program is competitive, and the founders are exceptional visionaries.
The final stage is BFN Scale, which provides between $50,000 to $200,000 in funding and a suite of programs ranging from fundraising to hiring. The program’s priority is empowering Black businesses and creating a conducive community to foster growth and development.
The programs’ official mission is to help Black founders at all stages of their journey, from ideation to scaleup, and to support them as they launch, fund, and scale impactful businesses.
Celebrating one year of Black excellence in entrepreneurship
After one year, the program’s creator, Efosa Obanom, has received the Minister of Colleges and Universities’ Award of Excellence for his support of Black entrepreneurs and businesses. The program has empowered businesses through funding and expertise.
After the pitches, cash prizes ranged from $5,000 to $15,000. The cohort choice award of $5,000 went to La Vance Dotson, the founder of Woo Your Boo, a platform to forge strong relationships using better date recommendations. The People’s Choice award went to Kevin Mpunga, the founder of Elev, a student housing rental platform that simplifies living with an integrated credit-building feature.
UTE awarded other prizes, including $5,000 to HDAX, a promising peripheral neuropathy treatment. They also awarded $5,000 to Fyyne, the previously mentioned specialized beauty services platform, and $15,000 to Reddi, a Nigerian-based portable energy storage solution.
The Black Founders’ Network is celebrating Black excellence, but what stood out at this event was the energy and passion this community has and how easy it is to imagine a future where every Black individual and business is at the forefront of society.
After one year, BFN shook the ground, and in five years, it will be sending shockwaves throughout the community and far beyond.