It’s only been a few weeks since the inaugural group of learners got started on a 20-month journey. Still, from her spot at the top, Nadine Spencer is already overwhelmed with excitement about the new BACEL Training Program, and how it could help lead to growth and success for Black-owned businesses.
Spencer is CEO of the Black Business and Professionals Association (BBPA), a charitable organization that has spent almost 40 years facilitating programs to support and advance Canada’s Black community.
In partnership with the Future Skills Centre and the Diversity Institute, the BBPA recently launched a first-of-its kind initiative for Black entrepreneurs called BACEL: the Black African and Caribbean Entrepreneurship Leadership Training Program.
“The purpose is to provide much-needed skills, networking, and mentorship opportunities,” Spencer said. “We’re offering entrepreneurs a roadmap for how to manage their business journey, and all the things they’re going to need on the way. It’s a long-standing need in the Black community.”
Even in these early days of instruction, Spencer has seen BACEL participants embracing this opportunity, and learning to look at things in a new light.
“The response has been overwhelming in terms of ‘This is incredible,’” Spencer said. “One woman wrote ‘Just by the questions you’ve asked me, I am now able to think of my business in a real way.’”
BACEL will provide free training to 400 entrepreneurs, aged 16 and up, who identify as Black, African, African Canadian or Afro-Caribbean. Importantly, the program supports training opportunities for participants with various intersectional marginalities, including women, low-income earners, and people with disabilities.
The Future Skills Centre has invested $1.5 million to fund training for the first BACEL program. After the initial group is finished, the program will be evaluated to assess its economic benefits, and to inform and enhance the BBPA’s existing program offerings.
“When we think about future skills, it’s about ensuring we incorporate things like technology and certain tools, including project management tools and accounting tools,” Spencer said. “What we see is that some entrepreneurs are afraid of the unknown, they don’t know what tools to use. The goal is that every entrepreneur who goes through this program would be able to point to at least one tool, one innovative technology tool, that they will implement in their business.”
BACEL consists of three connected levels of learning. Those in the entry tier are covering the basics, Spencer explained, such as what’s required to run a business, the major responsibilities and obligations. Level two is the intermediate stage, with a greater focus on the specifics of various industries, finances, marketing, and growth, helping budding entrepreneurs as they begin to experience business success.
Trainees who complete the second level are eligible to proceed to BACEL’s highest tier, the Academy, where courses will help aspiring scale-ups achieve new frontiers, such as exporting or applying operational standards to their growing enterprises.
“While we work to address equity and create a level playing field, we also need to provide Black entrepreneurs and professionals with the resources and skills they need to participate in a competitive marketplace,” Spencer said.
One of the first BACEL offerings is an entry-level course called the Street Entrepreneur Program. A 16-week session with 40 participants, it’s aimed at young, inexperienced trainees who show entrepreneurial spirit but lack basic business knowledge.
“The reason I’m so inspired about this one is we’re taking a sector of people in society that don’t have a lot of hope, and this program is going to give them that through skills,” Spencer said.
“These are individuals that society has written off. This training is someone saying ‘We believe in you as a human being in society, and you have this opportunity,’ and they are thrilled for the opportunity to learn a different way. It’s like a lifeline out of dormancy, out of nothingness, that they can lean into.”