Entrepreneurs are some of the strongest agents for change in our communities, and some of the most inspirational as well. They use their grit, tenacity, passion, and skills to build a business out of a vision.
I’m proud to have spent the last 26 years of my career working with entrepreneurs at BDC — which for over 75 years has remained a dedicated financial institution for entrepreneurs operating small to medium-sized businesses. We not only provide financing, advice, tools and resources, we also build meaningful relationships with our clients to provide value-added service.
Over all those years, I’ve seen firsthand how the entrepreneurial journey can be filled with successes, hurdles, and a few pivots. I’ve also learned that access to financing, business guidance, and a supportive network can be particularly challenging for underserved entrepreneurs to find.
What does it mean to be an ‘underserved’ entrepreneur? They are often members of marginalized communities; they may be racialized, identify as women, identify as members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, be living with a disability, or exist within a combination of these identities. Often, these entrepreneurs face more barriers to entry when it comes to starting or growing a business — and these challenges have been exacerbated through the pandemic.
“Our commitment is to listen and learn, working with our internal teams and external partners to understand these unique challenges through research, conversations, and data.”
Acutely aware of these challenges, at BDC we have been working to develop an inclusive and impactful approach to Client Diversity. Our commitment is to listen and learn, working with our internal teams and external partners to understand these unique challenges through research, conversations, and data. Then, we will develop solutions with tangible, measurable outcomes.
The whole bank is engaged with delivering this strategy, with five regional managers, each with a specific client segment focus, helping me lead the charge. These five individuals have diverse insights, knowledge, and experiences to share, plus a passion for helping entrepreneurs reach their full potential and thrive in every aspect of their business.
Below, meet Brooke, Nancy, Monica, David, and Chelsea — the team of client diversity experts I have the pleasure of working with to make funding for Canadian entrepreneurs more equitable.
"All entrepreneurs deserve the space and time to share their successes and struggles — especially those that are underserved."
Regional Manager, Client Diversity, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Diversity and inclusion are weaved into everything that I do at BDC. Since joining the bank in 2003, I have been deeply invested in providing support and guidance to Indigenous entrepreneurs, championing their goals, and celebrating their accomplishments. Officially, I lead the Bank’s national strategy addressing the needs of Indigenous entrepreneurs, so they can overcome barriers, grow, and thrive. I’m also the Indigenous Lead for BDC’s internal strategy to honour the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action #92.
As a proud Cree woman from the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and having been raised in northern Manitoba, my efforts are informed by my own personal experience. I understand the unique challenges many rural and remote Indigenous entrepreneurs face. I also know what is required for an accountable and equitable playing field in the realm of entrepreneurship and finance, and I’m driven to ensure that all entrepreneurs have access to the tools and resources they need to be successful in business.
All entrepreneurs deserve the space and time to share their successes and struggles — especially those that are underserved. I’ve learned that the biggest ways I can have an impact are believing in their ability to succeed, helping to nurture their business, supporting them by purchasing their products and services, and creating visibility by promoting their brands to others.
"I’m also an entrepreneur myself, so I understand the stress that can come from starting and growing a business."
Regional Manager, Client Diversity, Waterdown, Ontario
I am passionate about supporting women business owners through their entire business journey, and I joined BDC in 2017 with that specific goal — plus nearly two decades of experience supporting organizations in strategic planning and effecting change.
I’m also an entrepreneur myself, so I understand the stress that can come from starting and growing a business. After suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for years, I was inspired to become a certified health coach and host a podcast about what it means to live a healthy life. My personal business journey has informed my work at BDC not only through the lived experience I can draw from, but also from the perspective of wellbeing — research consistently shows that women, entrepreneurs of immigrant origin, and visible minorities have more mental health and well-being challenges, and 51% of entrepreneurs want a better work life balance.
For any entrepreneur feeling stressed, I have two tips I can share with you. Number one: get moving! Gentler forms of exercise, like walking, can help focus your thoughts, ease digestion, and replenish your energy. Number two: set aside time at the end of each week to review your income and expenses for that week, and forecast what you expect to happen 13-weeks from now. It is a tangible way to build your intuition with the numbers (for anyone doubting their financial acumen, know you can learn a skill by putting it into practice), and considering cash flow is the most often mentioned source of stress from business owners, it’s a great way to create peace of mind.
"I have been both the youngest person and the only Black person in many roles, and I understand the difficulties and challenges navigating oneself in predominantly white spaces."
Regional Manager, Client Diversity,
Empowering and mobilizing youth, women, and diverse entrepreneurs is the work that I live and breathe. I believe in equitable entrepreneurship and chose this path so I could help as many entrepreneurs as I can, particularly those from underserved communities, to build generational wealth and break down systemic barriers. I have an eclectic professional and entrepreneurial background, as well as sixteen years worth of leadership in civic engagement.
As a woman of Afro-Caribbean descent who is the product of a business leader and a serial entrepreneur, I have seen and experienced what it is like to run a business as a person of colour. I have been both the youngest person and the only Black person in many roles, and I understand the difficulties and challenges navigating oneself in predominantly white spaces. I know what it feels like to not fit in and have to ‘code switch’ to get by. Moreover, I understand that access to financing and networks are significant barriers for many Black entrepreneurs, as well as other systemically marginalized communities. In my role, I want to help these business owners navigate the complex entrepreneurial ecosystem, ensuring they’re aware of the resources available to them and how to get the financing and new market opportunities they need to scale their business. It is time that everyone gets a seat at the table.
What drives me daily is building a better and equitable future for my twins, Justice and Freedom. I want them to live in a world where they are judged by the content of their character and not their background. I want their future to be limitless. I am proud to be part of an organization where I can be an agent of change and level the playing field for so many.
"With their representation, I was more able to believe that as a visible minority, I can be in a position of influence. By being visible, I hope to show all diverse entrepreneurs that they are understood — and they are supported."
Regional Manager, Client Diversity,
North Vancouver, BC
Entrepreneurship runs in my family. I’ve been an entrepreneur myself, and my spouse and her mother — two influential women in my life — are both business owners. They have experienced the generous support of their respective customers and unfortunately, as women of Asian descent, faced discrimination as a visible minority.
In my mother-in-law’s situation, it was the typical immigrant story — with the added barriers of a new language, little funds and a lack of financial literacy, plus no network and a limited understanding of the business ecosystem. And she had a family to support. Having to rely on her young daughter to interact with institutions, she often avoided seeking support, as there was no one who fully understood her. Instead, she frequently reminded her children of the importance of working hard and persevering. Seeing someone in a position of authority and leadership that looked like her would have given her comfort and confidence when growing her business.
Why do I believe that could have helped with my mother-in-law’s anxiety and stress as she struggled to grow her business? Early in my banking career, I experienced the power of visible role models. I interviewed for a role with someone who looked like me, and though I didn’t consciously realize it at first, that sparked a sense of confidence and provided inspiration. With their representation, I was more able to believe that as a visible minority, I can be in a position of influence. By being visible, I hope to show all diverse entrepreneurs that they are understood — and they are supported.
"Focusing on women has always been an integral part of the positions I’ve held at the Bank — I’ve gone as far as accompanying women entrepreneurs on several International Trade Missions."
Regional Manager, Client Diversity,
When I joined BDC 10 years ago — after more than 15 years working in the market development and venture capital space — the mandate of the organization called to me, and I was thrilled to be able to use my experience and network to accelerate the development of Canadian Entrepreneurs. In the first few months, I realized that women entrepreneurs weren’t comfortable with financing, and most didn’t know how approachable BDC was. I was fortunate to cross paths with the President of the Reseau des Femmes d’Affaires du Quebec (RFAQ), who was building a wonderful initiative aimed at scaling women-owned businesses by providing them with opportunities to work with large organizations.
From then on I was hooked, and began my best and brightest journey into inclusion, with a focus on opening doors for women. I quickly became president of a great initiative at RFAQ called Développement Économique au Féminin (DEF), helping more than a dozen influential business leaders — both men and women — to accelerate and grow their impact in our business community. It led me to form incredible bonds with the women entrepreneurs I met, and their success stories have become my daily highlights, inspiring me with the knowledge that I was making a difference.
Ever since, I stayed highly involved by helping develop BDC’s Women Entrepreneur Strategy, which was going strong even before it was officially made a national priority. Focusing on women has always been an integral part of the positions I’ve held at the Bank — I’ve gone as far as accompanying women entrepreneurs on several International Trade Missions, to ensure they felt supported and empowered to take on any opportunities coming their way. Now, to see my influence grow to include other underrepresented groups, I’m beyond excited to be able to replicate and apply this nurturing approach to help their business thrive and grow.