Mona-Lisa Prosper is the Director of the Black Entrepreneur Startup program at Futurpreneur. In a recent conversation, she shared how the program removes critical barriers and enables the future success of young Black business owners.
Futurpreneur is a national, non-profit organization providing financing, mentorship and resources to aspiring young business owners. In March 2021, the organization launched the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program (BESP), a funding collaboration with RBC with additional financing from Business Development Bank Canada (BDC), that delivers start-up loan financing, up to two years of mentorship, plus access to support tools and networking opportunities to Black entrepreneurs aged 18 – 39.
Mona-Lisa Prosper is the Director of Black Entrepreneurs at Futurpreneur, which involves spearheading the BESP. With a background in law, first-hand experience starting and growing businesses and involvement with representation and inclusive governance, she is a champion for diversity, equity and concrete action. Prosper shares her perspective on the program, how it will address key obstacles facing prospective Black business owners and how her passion for her new role will fuel the organization’s ongoing commitment to inclusion and impact.
Q: Mona-Lisa, you have a degree in law yet you took your career in a different direction. What is behind your drive to support entrepreneurs?
A: When I finished law school, I tried out different areas of the law and it became evident to me very early that I would rather use my law degree to help people build, instead of fixing problems in a courtroom. I felt that business would be a great avenue, and at the same time the start-up ecosystem in Montreal was booming. I started getting more and more interested in local start-ups and realized I could use my law degree to help entrepreneurs.
Q: How does your role at Futurpreneur draw on your past experiences?
A: When I saw the position at Futurpreneur I felt it was made for me. I couldn’t have created a more perfect job posting, because it represented exactly what I wanted to do. The notion of pushing marginalized communities forward, doing good for Black entrepreneurs, and giving back have always been important to me. Drawing on my experience in the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED & I) sector, it’s great to be able to ensure a program is being delivered in the right way, that we are measuring our impact and understanding if things are going in the right direction.
Q: What do you feel are the key barriers to success for Black entrepreneurs?
A: It’s access. Access to financing, access to resources, access to networks. Close behind that are all the credit barriers that are out there. It’s a reality a lot of Black communities face – whether they are new immigrants without an understanding of how systems work in Canada, or don’t have access to generational wealth, which just isn’t present in the Black community.
In a recent study, 76% of Black entrepreneurs said their race was a barrier for them to succeed. That’s why programs like ours are key – and will continue to be important until we reach equity.
Q: Networking and mentorship are two important components of the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program. What roles do they play in the success of an entrepreneur?
A: When you’re building a business, no matter where you come from, it’s all about your network – and when you don’t have access to a robust network, it makes things harder. That’s why part of our program involves leveraging a national network of Black entrepreneurs, leaders and Black-led community organizations.
When it comes to mentorship, it helps in so many ways. It helps entrepreneurs see the bigger picture, open their mind to different opportunities and have a sounding board with an experienced professional who might have gone through the same process. Having a close relationship with a mentor makes a huge difference in the journey of an entrepreneur – it’s one of the keys to success.
Q: The program is still quite new – it launched one year ago. What is your vision for it going forward?
A: The vision has been the same since I joined – I really want the program to be top-of-mind for every single young Black entrepreneur in Canada. I want it to become automatic in the same way someone would think about opening a bank account if they have money to deposit. If someone is starting a business, I want them to know that Futurpreneur can help them launch.
And we’re doing a pretty good job! We have funded 100+ entrepreneurs so far.
Q: Are you seeing a lot of demand for the program? What are the biggest areas of need you are seeing?
A: Our team is overwhelmed with demand. It’s nice because it confirms there is a need for our program. What’s also become clear is that there is a lot more education that needs to be done to get entrepreneurs ready. For instance, there is a lot of knowledge that needs to be shared around getting a business ready for funding and developing cash flow projections. It’s amazing to have funding solutions but the resources offered at Futurpreneur will really help entrepreneurs get to the point where their business is ready to access that funding.
Q: What advice would you have for young Black entrepreneurs who are just starting out, or looking to become entrepreneurs?
A: I would say, don’t limit yourself. Don’t be afraid – entrepreneurship is scary for everybody, and it’s even scarier when you might not have representation around you. But don’t be afraid to push through – and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a lot of programs out there to help young Black entrepreneurs – including Futurpreneur – so do your research to see what resources can help you succeed.
Q: How can the broader startup ecosystem contribute to the success of Black entrepreneurs?
A: We are always looking for mentors. It’s a volunteer position, but if you’re an expert in a certain area or an entrepreneur with a number of years of experience, that’s a great way to help.
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