Using Lived Experience to Address Barriers to Inclusive Entrepreneurship
by Besma Soltan, VenturED Lead, and Renee Devereaux, EDGE Director
At Sheridan EDGE, a social venture incubator that works with and for founders from underrepresented communities, we’re accustomed to talking about systemic barriers. Inequitable access to capital, services and expertise are well-documented issues we hear echoed in the day-to-day experiences of our founders. Opening up dialogue about the institutional and socio-cultural barriers that stifle entrepreneurial potential was easy at first. It was overdue and needed. What followed was more challenging, as we began to examine our role in the problem as entrepreneurship educators and respond to courageous feedback from founders.
It’s unlikely this would have been possible had our own team not represented the diversity of the region and students we serve (the City of Brampton, home to Sheridan’s largest campus, is one of the most diverse in Canada — 73% of residents identify as racialized). Knowing EDGE leaders shared the lived experiences of systemic barriers, founders increasingly spoke up to let us know when our experts, mentors and resources fell short and reflected an outdated model of entrepreneurship.
Many well-intentioned people think colonialism is behind us, not realizing that millions still suffer from its impacts. The systemic barriers it has created are so deeply embedded that we’re no longer able to comprehend the extent of their reach – on our systems as well as our individual awareness and decision-making. In our efforts to decolonize, we’re working to expand our community’s understanding of the term “diversity.” Diversity goes beyond having pictures of racialized individuals in marketing material or hiring racialized employees. It dives deep into the impacts colonialism has in our present day.
Collaborating effectively with our founders means understanding the perspectives diverse communities have of entrepreneurship, and their interconnected cultural, environmental, social, economic and spiritual elements. Indigenous approaches to entrepreneurship are embedded in deep and meaningful connection to land, traditional teaching, and community wellbeing. Indigenous entrepreneurs connect cultural dimensions to entrepreneurial attitudes, utilizing their robust resilience strategies while continuing to live in externally imposed situations of vulnerability. Western-based entrepreneurship tools and models do not align with the social and cultural structures of Indigenous communities and have greatly harmed Indigenous entrepreneurs in ways invisible to most organizations intending to help them.
Although often depicted as oppressive within mainstream media based on narrow or extremist interpretations, Shariah law refers to a wide range of moral and ethical principles — from manners and morals to guidance around financial activities, transactions and contracts. A Muslim entrepreneur who observes these ethical principles may consider how their venture might negatively impact society or the economy in the long term. This perspective examines the wealth generated by the venture together with its social impact, and in many ways aligns with contemporary social enterprise approaches. Finding these points of intersection offers great potential to enrich entrepreneurial learning.
EDGE is developing learning modules that reflect our emerging understanding of diversity. This approach acknowledges the dominant narratives in the entrepreneurship ecosystem and makes room for our community to craft new narratives while building social ventures. It engages students and founders in learning about decolonizing entrepreneurship, BIPOC perspectives on social innovation and ways to embed JEDID (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Decolonization) into their work and learning.
While we’ll continue to make mistakes, we know we’re contributing to the College’s work to embed JEDID values at all levels of the institution while keeping the voices of founders and student entrepreneurs at the forefront. Our goal is to create a new model for entrepreneurial learning that’s grounded in the collective wisdom of founders and their allies, one that offers an expanded vision for what entrepreneurship can contribute to a healthy, prosperous and equitable society.
Sheridan EDGE is a social venture incubator at Sheridan College in Brampton, Oakville and Mississauga, Ontario. For more information, visit edge.sheridancollege.ca