Every February, Canadians come together to honor, celebrate and reverberate the legacy of Black people and their communities to advocate and highlight their histories, contributions, and successes through Black History Month. This year’s theme is ‘Ours to Tell’ which presents an opportunity to engage in more open dialogue and commit to continuous and active learning about the stories of Black people and their communities. As members of the growing innovation economy, it is important for us to support Black entrepreneurs and innovators, today and beyond, as recent data and studies reveal continued systemic barriers to growth and success for black entrepreneurs. A Pan-Canadian survey commissioned by African Canadian Senate Group depicts that 76% of all black entrepreneurs that were surveyed said that their race made it harder for them to succeed. Cultivating a vibrant ecosystem that thrives on the values of inclusive entrepreneurship is the need of the hour, and so, in the honor of this month and with the hope of a diverse future, we are highlighting and amplifying stories of Black entrepreneurs who are creating a positive impact in the Southwestern Ontario tech and innovation corridor.

TechAlliance’s GROW Accelerator and Elevate Entrepreneurship Incubator member, Rashidi Kabamba, Founder of RKease Co., is one such innovative founder and Black entrepreneur who has been educating companies on how to manage the thing that affects almost everyone– stress! Inspired by lived experiences, Kabamba is on a mission to help the community become more productive and efficient through stress education workshops that involve music therapy and jingle creation. “As a founder, you’re not only starting a business, but you’re creating a belief system or a philosophy to make this world a better place. When I realized that, I wanted to create a new movement in the world, so that people get inspired to transform and lead better lives,” shares Kabamba.

Designed and developed on the five-pillar principle of stress education, Kabamba conceived this idea through his personal experience of feeling burnt out and stressed while trying to innovate during his previous entrepreneurial stint of creating therapeutic robotic animals for mental health patients. Being an avid reader and music lover, he resorted to books and music to cope with his stress, only to have an epiphany one day, “I was reading On the Sacred Disease by Hippocratic Corpus and stumbled upon a quote that said that as long as the brain is at rest, a man enjoys his reason. This quote made me think that the brain needs to be in a position to have reason and that can only happen if you are stress-free.” Digging deeper into this area of study with the support of social workers, physicians and health experts, Kabamba pivoted to producing stress education workshops for employers while incorporating his love for music in these sessions. “I wanted to make this experience as easy and comfortable as possible for everyone. That meant incorporating some elements that speak to the common person, and since music acts therapeutic for me, I thought of adding jingles to these workshops to make them less daunting and more fun!” said Kabamba.

In the pursuit of developing a wellness program that truly helps employers have healthier employees, better productivity and less stress, Kabamba decided to participate in two integral projects – Elevate Entrepreneurship and GROW Accelerator – steered by TechAlliance of Southwestern Ontario along with other industry partners. Launched for Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC), and Women entrepreneurs, Elevate Entrepreneurship was a micro-certification that supported innovators with the knowledge to scale and build businesses. On the other hand, GROW Accelerator follows a cohort model where companies meet with their growth coaches to learn, discuss and share insights and opportunities through candid conversations. Sharing his experience, he said, “Both of these experiences have helped me gain more knowledge and make some great connections. I still often refer and look back at the courses and discussions that I’ve had through these projects, and these really initiated my journey as an entrepreneur in London’s tech community.”

Realizing the responsibility that comes with being a Black entrepreneur, Kabamba is involved in various capacities to give back, educate and inspire the next generation of underrepresented entrepreneurs. “Being an entrepreneur is a fulfilling experience and so, I love to share this journey with an aspiring group of innovators and entrepreneurs in Congo. We have an online group where we always stay in touch and I share my experiences and learnings with them, with the hope that they get motivated to pursue the same path as mine,” shares Kabamba. Leading his venture with this vision, he also represents RKease and himself at various speaking events, accelerators, and pitch competitions to educate individuals about entrepreneurship and inspire underrepresented and BIPOC groups to become their best selves “I believe that, as underrepresented groups, we struggle with self-doubt which stops us from stepping out of our comfort zone. It’s truly important for us to see ourselves differently and have that confidence to take new leaps, even when it gets difficult. At times, you’ve got to take the difficult path and challenge yourself to set a new example to surpass and reach greater heights,” said Kabamba.

Growing and learning with TechAlliance’s Startup Advisor, Devin Golets, Kabamba truly believes that his biggest competition is he, himself, and strives to be better by 1%, every single day. “One thing that stood out to me right away about Rashidi is that he is committed to the process of becoming the best entrepreneur he can be. He accepts the challenge, just like he accepted the challenge of being an athlete earlier in his life. He’s committed to learning and improving. He asks for feedback, accepts it, and implements it. It’s awesome to see how much he has grown month over month, and he’s an easy guy to cheer for,” shares Golets.

Many Black entrepreneurs, such as Kabamba, are creating a positive impact in the Southwestern Ontario tech and innovation ecosystem every single day. As community members, it is important for us to provide equal opportunities, resources, support and advocate for Black entrepreneurs, innovators and ventures to forge a vibrant tech ecosystem that reflects and instills the values of inclusivity, diversity and inclusion and ultimately, bolsters the growing innovation economy.