Pitch contest elevating Black entrepreneurs in Manitoba and across Canada

Making tuition payments was a bit of a difficult process for Tinashe Mutamngira, an international student from Zimbabwe, currently studying at the University of Manitoba.

Mutamangira would experience large lags of time between making a tuition payment and the university actually receiving it, mostly because of currency exchanges and movement of money between countries.

To make his life, and the lives of all international students easier, Mutamangira decided to create his own tech-based salutation.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure all of those inconveniences are cut out of the way by providing that efficient way to pay tuition feeds on time,” said Mutamangira, founder and CEO of InTuitionPay, a web service and smartphone app that expedites tuition payments for international students.

“We automated all of the processes and use a mobile application to input all of a person’s data instantly,” said Mutamangira, “And then we’ll establish a relationship between banks and universities.”

InTuitionPay also has a social network element where international students can connect and share experiences or offer advice about moving to a new country.

The product itself is almost ready to hit the market (and is already available in the Apple App Store) but Mutamangira and his team are facing financial barriers.

“We’re kind of stunted between growing and being able to survive,” said Mutamangira, adding that, most of his team works minimum wage jobs while operating the company to offset costs, like cloud-based data storage.

“The way the Canadian system is structured, it doesn’t allow international students to get financial aid in the form of a loan or grants.”

It’s a story that’s very familiar to Jackee Kasandi, who left the corporate world to start her own retail store in Vancouver that sells fair trade products from around the world, particularly artisans from Africa.

When Kasandi first started to launch her business she had to overcome the reality that, as an immigrant, getting a loan from a bank for a business venture isn’t easy.

“They wouldn’t give it to me, I don’t own a home,” said Kasandi, “I couldn’t own a home and run a business at the same time.”

Kasandi says that many black entrepreneurs are immigrants or newcomers to Canada, meaning they don’t have financial resources like owned property, a family to support them or a domestic credit history.

“Being a black woman, being an immigrant, I have to prove myself, I have to prove the viability of my business,” she said, “There are so many steps before someone will say ‘okay we’ll give you some money.’”

Despite the financial obstacles, Kasandi managed to make a success out of her store, mainly by cutting costs where she could and maxing out credit cards.

To make sure other black entrepreneurs don’t need to undergo the same experiences, Kasandi, also co-founder of the Black Entrepreneurs and Businesses of Canada Society, created the “Black Pitch Contest.”

“So that more people can come up faster than I did, so more people can have less barriers than I did,” said Kasandi.

The Black Pitch Contest – a nationwide competition – is a way for entrepreneurs to learn how to speak to investors and intimately understand the pitch-making process.

Out of several semi-finalists, one winner will be declared who will get a $25,000 investment.

“Getting capital seed, any type of startup money is a great challenge in Manitoba,” said Zita Somakoko, founder of the Black Manitobans Chamber of Commerce.

Somakoko says that, at all levels of government, there is little to no support for newcomer communities in the province.

“We have resources for newcomer employability, but not entrepreneurship,” Somakoko said.

“Supporting black entrepreneurs is supporting Manitoba’s economy. Our government has yet to understand at all levels,” she said.

Access to funding is one of the reasons Mutamangira entered the Black Pitch Contest and is aiming for that first-prize $25,000 lump sump.

“Not only does it open up access to the right talent, the right resources,” he said, “It also helps us get into the next stage where investors can now consider us investable.”

Semi-finalists for the Black Pitch Contest will be announced in early January.

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