‘Important to see Black women in business thrive’: Halifax entrepreneur supports other women

The “blkpreneur market” in Halifax on Sunday featured 20 entrepreneurs and celebrated Black women-owned small businesses that have been able to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event was organized by Tia Upshaw, who has owned her own cleaning business for seven years. Now, she’s giving back to her community by encouraging young women to become entrepreneurs and helping them establish business plans and secure investors.

“I am a Black woman and I never had anybody reach out and want to help me in my journey of being self-employed,” she said.

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So earlier this year, Upshaw decided to create Black Women in Excellence, a not-for-profit that offers 16-week mentorship programs, teaching Black women how to build a business from the ground up.

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The 10 women who signed up for her program are all still in business today.

“If it wasn’t for COVID, these women wouldn’t have had the courage and the gumption and the strive to actually do something. Because they need to replace that lost income,” she said.

Funmi Odeny, who is a mother of four children, was one of the entrepreneurs at Sunday’s market. She started her business making and selling African print clothing and was able to quit her full-time job as an accountant to work on her passion.

“It’s so important to see Black women in business thrive because you know the women in society do a lot. So being in business is more of them trying to push what they have passion for,” Odeny said.

Upshaw’s own two daughters now both operate businesses. Zaria, 14, owns an eyelash business and Shykia, 22, has her own gourmet chocolate company.

“They both lost their father and you know, within 10 months later, they’re running a business,” Upshaw said.

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She believes that kind of progress can be attained by many other Black women entrepreneurs, who are just looking for a little support.

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“Black women, we are the core of our family unit. We are the core,” Upshaw said.

“And if we’re not right and we’re not financially stable, if we’re struggling or if we’re stressing over, ‘I can’t pay the bill, I can’t do this, I can’t do that,’ we can’t be the best version of ourselves for us or for our children.”

She plans on organizing more markets in the future.

— with a file from Rebecca Lau