Mona-Lisa Prosper is the new Director, Black Entrepreneurs at Futurpreneur – a culmination of a multifaceted career that’s spanned a broad variety of fields and disciplines.
Over the past decade, Prosper has garnered experience in the fields of law, entrepreneurship, economic development and talent acquisition, working with everyone from tech firms to fashion designers. Along the way, she developed an unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“I was like, ‘Wow, what a great link of all of my passions and goals,’” Prosper says. “I have an eclectic professional background, but I thought this was the perfect combination of everything I’ve done so far.”
As part of the new role, Prosper will be spearheading the newly-launched Black Entrepreneur Startup Program (BESP), an initiative funded by RBC with additional loan financing from BDC.
The program is a tailored version of Futurpreneur’s Start-Up Program, which has supported thousands of entrepreneurs across Canada. The just-announced BESP offers up to $60,000 in financing, plus expert mentorship and resources, to Black aspiring entrepreneurs aged 18-39 across Canada.
A native of Montreal, Prosper began her career in law and is still a member of the Quebec bar. Supporting entrepreneurs became a focus right out of the gate for Prosper; her first venture out of school was Propulsio 360, a law firm aimed at helping aspiring small business owners navigate the legal landscape.
The firm, which Prosper co-founded, helped entrepreneurs at a variety of stages, from businesses still in the idea phase to those equipped with a plan and ready to put it in motion. While still at Propulsio 360, she recognized the valuable support that Futurpreneur offers to young entrepreneurs and referred a number of aspiring business owners to the organization.
“I think the of my work at Propulsio 360 that was most fulfilling was giving tools to other very creative people to help bring their dreams to fruition,” she says.
Prosper had another, more personal goal in co-founding the firm: Stretching her skill set and exploring opportunities beyond the world of law. “In the beginning, starting my business was a way of expressing myself, just being ‘more than a lawyer’ – I had so many interests and wanted to do so many things,” she says.
Realizing that her career trajectory was ultimately leading her away from the legal world, she left the business. For a year, she worked in recruiting, helping new companies find their first employees: “It was a way to get to know businesses and learn their specific needs,” she says.
After that, she pursued an opportunity with Montreal’s economic promotion agency, MTL International, building relationships within the business ecosystem and helping international companies expand to that city. Prosper then became president of the Jeune Chambre de Commerce des Femmes du Québec (Young Chamber of Commerce of Women of Québec).
Along the way, she became a staunch advocate for representation and inclusive governance, including becoming one of the diversity ambassadors at regional development firm Concertation MTL, and serving on the founding team of the #Ensembleinc Movement in Québec.
Prosper, whose parents immigrated from Haiti, says she was taught to be proud of her roots from an early age. Echoing others in the Futurpreneur network involved in diversity efforts (including Futurpreneur mentor Njeri Watkins), Prosper says that after many years of tireless work from anti-racism advocates, the broader business world is gradually becoming more receptive to conversations around race and diversity.
“These issues have been there forever, and different entities in different ways have been screaming from the top of their lungs about them, but it was never taken seriously,” she says.
“It took many tragic events and a pandemic, but right now, it feels like people are finally listening – in the business world, in nonprofits, everywhere … It feels different this time than any other time before. People are realizing that in order to truly be diverse and inclusive, you need to take concrete action – or else you might as well just not try.”
The care and thought put into the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program was what attracted her to the idea of working with Futurpreneur, she says.
“I was very impressed – whether it’s through working with human rights lawyers or having a D&I expert consultant as part of the team within Futurpreneur – by the thought that came through every part of the process … I don’t like ‘fluff,’ for lack of a better term. It needs to have impact and be well thought out, which is what this program is,” she adds.
While the newly-launched program is still being refined, Prosper is confident it will continue to take shape in a way that will offer tailored, comprehensive support to young Black entrepreneurs in Canada.
“There are still lots of systemic barriers for Black entrepreneurs, and it’s mainly linked to funding. I feel like the program specifically addresses that,” she says. “It’s more than just giving tools – it’s really about access to money, because you need money to be able to build your business. It’s a well thought out way to give access to funds, and resources.”
With the BESP officially launched, Prosper says she’s eager to hit the ground running, working with partner groups and with the rest of the Futurpreneur team to keep developing the program.
“A year from now, I want us to be very happy with the turnout – that we reached our goals, and the program is successful.”
Learn more about the Black Entrepreneur Startup Program.