How BMO Business Within Reach Supports Black Entrepreneurs
Canada’s rich tapestry of independently owned businesses is a huge point of pride. Independent businesses create opportunities, visibility and contribute in countless ways to the diversity of culture that’s an essential part of our national character.
Here at BMO, we’re focused on championing entrepreneurs, one business at a time. That means helping to remove systemic barriers and improve access to support—including financing, educational resources and partnerships.
Tailored to the needs of Black entrepreneurs, Business Within Reach: BMO for Black Entrepreneurs is specifically designed to propel Black businesses. More than a banking solution, for Ash Phillips and Miro LaFlaga, co-founders of the Montreal creative branding agency Six Cinquième, the program has provided a vital network that is helping them pay their success forward.
Ash and Miro talk about their challenges, taking chances and the benefits of the BMO for Black Entrepreneurs initiative.
Mike Bonner: What motivated you two to start your own creative agency?
Miro LaFlaga: When I started out, I always felt kind of overlooked. I don’t fit the specific mold of people who work with agencies here in Québec. I speak mostly English; I’m a Black man and I have tattoos on my head and face. Ash and I talked about it and we thought we should start our own thing.
Ash Phillips: We created Six Cinquième because it didn’t exist for us. It was a necessity. We looked at what we needed to grow and thrive as creatives and we built it ourselves. There are so many people like us who need that space and opportunity to work in an organization that really prioritizes them and uplifts their ideas, values and creativity. We wanted to provide that to others who are on the same journey as we are.
MB: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
ML: The reality for people from our background is we have to put ourselves in debt to launch a business. We don’t have the same support systems or family who can lend us money. That means personal lines of credit or using your credit card. And then when you’re trying to get business financing, your personal debt ends up working against you.
MB: How did BMO for Black Entrepreneurs help?
ML: It feels like a lot of institutions make pledges about helping diverse businesses, but then nothing happens. It was refreshing to see a financial institution do the action. BMO was actually willing to listen to our story and understand our reality. They provided us with a $75,000 line of credit that we’ve been able to put toward operating expenses—like paying freelancers. It’s a safety net that gives us peace of mind.
AP: It’s not just a transactional relationship, it’s very personal. We work with one dedicated relationship manager, and she has our back. We can reach out to her for anything. I’ve never experienced that before in a banking relationship.
MB: Six Cinquième provides creative services to many Black-owned businesses, but that’s not the only way you support Black entrepreneurs. Tell me more.
AP: We intentionally and actively try to support creatives in our community. One of the ways we do that is with workshops, where we share the ups and downs of our journey or teach BIPOC entrepreneurs about branding. We take chances on people and mentor them and give them space to learn. Because that’s how we got where we are.
To learn more about Business Within Reach and how BMO is supporting Black entrepreneurs, visit bmo.com/blackbusinesses.