Canada’s rich tapestry of independently owned businesses is a huge point of pride. Independent businesses create opportunity, visibility and contribute in countless ways to the diversity of culture that is an essential part of our national character.
Here at BMO, we’re focused on championing entrepreneurs, one business at a time. This means helping to remove systemic barriers and improve access to support – including funding, educational resources and partnerships.
tailored to the needs of black entrepreneurs, Business in Reach: BMO for Black Entrepreneurs Specifically designed to advance black businesses. For Ash Phillips and Miro Laflaga, co-founders of Montreal creative branding agency Six Cinquime, more than a banking solution, the program has provided a vital network that is helping propel their success.
Ash and Miro talk about their challenges, the opportunities and benefits of the BMO for Black Entrepreneurs initiative.
Mike Bonner: What inspired the two of you to start your own creative agency?
Miro Laflaga: When I started out, I always felt kind of overlooked. I don’t fit the typical mold of people who work with agencies here in Quebec. I speak mostly English; I am a black man and have tattoos on my head and face. Ash and I talked about it and we thought we should start our work.
Ash Phillips: We made Six Cinquiem because it didn’t exist for us. It was a necessity. We looked at what we needed to grow and thrive as creatives and built it ourselves. There are so many people like us who need that space and opportunity to work in an organization that truly prioritizes them and enhances their ideas, values and creativity. We wanted to provide this to other people who are on the same journey as us.
MB: What challenges have you faced?
ml: The reality for people of our background is that we have to get ourselves into debt to start a business. We don’t have the same support system or family that can lend us money. This means using a personal credit line or your credit card. And then when you’re trying to get business financing, your personal credit is working against you.
MB: How has BMO helped for Black entrepreneurs?
ml: Lots of organizations seem to pledge to help diverse businesses, but then nothing happens. It was refreshing to see a financial institution take action. BMO was really willing to listen to our story and understand our reality. They provided us with a $75,000 line of credit that we have been able to put towards operating expenses – such as paying freelancers. It is a safety net that gives us peace of mind.
AP: It is not just a transactional relationship, it is very personal. We work with a dedicated Relationship Manager, who is with us. We can reach out to him for anything. I have never experienced anything like this before in a banking relationship.
MB: Six Cinequim provides creative services to many Black-owned businesses, but that’s not the only way you support a Black entrepreneur. tell me more.
AP: We consciously and actively strive to support the creatives in our community. One way to do this is through workshops, where we share the ups and downs of our journey or teach BIPOC entrepreneurs about branding. We give people opportunities and mentor them and give them space to learn. Because that’s how we got to where we are.
To learn more about Business Within Reach and how BMO is supporting Black entrepreneurs, visit bmo.com/blackbusinesses,