Scarborough actors Shamier Anderson and Stephan James along with their brother Sheldon James have launched a Toronto-based Black-owned venture-capital firm called Bay Mills Investment Group with the goal of fostering BIPOC-owned businesses in Canada. So far, the firm has raised $15 million of its $100-million goal.
The three founders say there is a lack of diversity when it comes to investors in Canada as well as those who have the financial means to fund startups from BIPOC entrepreneurs. As a result, BIPOC startups have a harder time convincing potential investors to fund their projects, causing a gap in the market for businesses appealing to the city’s diverse communities.
“We’re in an age of consumerism and if we’re not paying attention to the (diverse) population of the GTA, which has proven time and time again to be innovative with ideas, it’s why it’s beneficial to have diversity in these boards to at least lend an ear to hear about these ideas,” says Sheldon, 25, a military veteran who serves as the group’s CEO. He adds that there is a lack of Black role models in leadership positions in the corporate world.
Among the types of businesses the firm — named after a community housing project in Scarborough where the brothers were raised by their Jamaican-born mother — is accepting pitches from: real estate, cannabis production and distribution, entertainment and hospitality, and medical and biotech.
In the wake of last summer’s protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, more attention has been given in support of Black-owned businesses across Canada. However, business owners and activists say supporting Black entrepreneurs should go beyond buying their products and services, and it should also mean getting rid of systemic barriers in the business and financial sectors that make it difficult to secure bank loans or venture-capital funding.
“The plight of George Floyd has given focus (to) what is needed in this community,” says Anderson. “We realized we’re able to have the ears of a lot of corporate Canada, and that’s something that’s needed and seminal.”
“We’re in a new age and era. We’re in a time where we’re speaking to a group of people who have long been overlooked so there is an appetite for this initiative, giving founders ownership of their businesses, it’s the right step,” says Stephen, star of film director Barry Jenkins’ acclaimed 2018 drama “If Beale Street Could Talk” and the first season of the Amazon series “Homecoming.”
Bay Mills is still actively looking for corporate partners and other investors to meet its $100-million goal by June. Melissa Allen, a financial adviser who previously worked with Desjardins and Google, is the firm’s partner and chief operating officer while Tenecia Toban, founder of digital media agency Sanetto, serves as chief technology officer.
The 27-year-old Stephan is most known for acting in films like “Selma,” as well as his Canadian Screen Award-winning lead role as the Jesse Owens biopic “Race.” He was nominated for a Golden Globe for “Homecoming” and an Emmy for “#FreeRayshawn.
Anderson, 29, starred in the sci-fi Western series “Wynonna Earp” and can be seen in upcoming films “Stowaway” alongside Anna Kendrick and Toni Collette, as well as “Awake” with Gina Rodriguez and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Late last year, Stephan and Anderson launched The Black Academy, an organization aimed at showcasing Black talent (among the projects in the works is an all-Black awards show). It is an extension of B.L.A.C.K. Canada, a not-for-profit the two founded in 2016 to create opportunities for young and emerging Black talent in the entertainment industry.