This latest Secret Sauce is a personal one. Forgive me for taking a slightly longer-than-usual “scenic route” as I reflect on attending my first EY Strategic Growth Forum and Breakfast Culture Inc.'s acceptance in the EY Entrepreneur Access Network. Secret Sauce subscribers will recall The Inclusion Continuum and how EY Canada is committed to being the first level four in Canada as reported in Trevor Wilson’s book The Human Equity Advantage. My experience this month demonstrates that they are serious in moving towards this commitment.
How my first VC Pitch landed me in Palm Desert
My journey to this place began once I embraced my authenticity and showed up as my true self in EVERYTHING I do -- showing up with my Blackness, my Queerness, and my "badassery." Early in 2023, the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC) invited Breakfast Culture Inc. to participate in our first-ever Venture Capital pitch competition. With the encouragement and coaching from my mentor, Doug Minter, I walked into this 50-person competition with bravado, expecting to win the $5,000 top prize, but after watching the first ten pitches, I knew I’d be a winner if I placed just in the top ten. These pitches were en pointe. I placed fourth and Breakfast Culture was awarded $1,000.
This experience encouraged me to enter the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC) + EY Pitch Competition for a place in the Supplier Diversity Professional Excellence Program at Tuck Executive Education at Dartmouth. Shout out to Pru Girme and Paige Harlock at CGLCC for encouraging me to participate. I didn't win a spot in that program but I impressed the judges and was immediately awarded a spot in the 2023 EY Entrepreneur Access Network (#EYAccessNetwork). So in my head, I was a winner.
Launched in January 2021 (and in Canada a year later), the EY Entrepreneur Access Network works with Black, Latine and Indigenous entrepreneurs via year-long business educational programming and invitations to EY events including EY Entrepreneur of the Year (#EoY). The crown jewel is access to the invitation-only EY Strategic Growth Forum held every November in Palm Desert, California. At the breathtaking JW Marriott Resort & Spa, founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, venture capitalists, EY partners and guests attend business learning sessions and network for clients, funding and counselling. This year's speakers included:
Jay Shetty, Chief Purpose Officer at Calm, who talked about why connected thinkers will rule the future;
Daniel Lubetzky, Founder of KIND, who discussed the importance of cultivating kind and “not nice” workplace cultures;
Reese Whitherspoon, who shared her challenges shattering the glass ceiling as a woman entrepreneur in the media sector with her business Hello Sunshine;
Tracee Ellis Ross, the powerhouse who broke down beauty stereotypes about frizzy, curly, and kinky hair with her business Pattern Beauty.
This is not your typical business conference. It is an investment to attend but well worth the spend. I have now put a line item in my 2024 budget, assuming I get invited again. Please check out my personal Instagram and Linkedin feeds for conference highlights.
"If you can hear me, clap!"
- Nit Reeder, US EY Access Network Program Director
One day was devoted to Black, Latine, and Indigenous entrepreneurs, as part of the myriad EY Entrepreneur Access Network classes in attendance. I was part of an incredible new cohort of Canadians in the network (Nicole Antoine, Evelyne Nyario, Farnel Fleurant, Muriel Koucoi, Thierry Lindor, Randy Osei, Clara D. Lewis, Akeem Gardner, Anthony Wingham, Nancy Wingham, Alison Evans, Sean Evans, Stan Higgins, Mallory Yawnghwe and Kham Yawngwhe) but sadly, only a few of us could attend. Still, everyone there discussed some of the myriad challenges of corporate supplier diversity programs and one person shared this apt analogy, "Supplier Diversity (SD) programs are like entering in the side door versus walking through the front door," which really resonated with me as Breakfast Culture struggles with jumping through the myriad hoops of SD programs on both sides of the border.
This room of nearly 100 Black, Brown and Indigenous entrepreneurs sharing our joys, triumphs, and frustrations not only made me realize that I am not alone but also rewarded us all with inspiration, support, and validation. I am now connected to this vital group of seasoned and accomplished entrepreneurs with whom I can learn, share, and grow. EY Winning Women & LGBTQ+ Lunch In addition to the EY Entrepreneur Access Network, there were delegates from EY's Winning Women's Program, 21 women-owned and/or women-targeted businesses slaying the entrepreneurial sector. Learn more about these amazing businesses here. There was also a lunch for over a dozen 2SLGBTQI+- owned businesses, where we met with Lorenzo Thione who discussed the challenges of raising venture capital for queer founders. Many of the founders asked the provocative question: if our businesses were open to anyone and everyone, why should our orientations matter? Lorenzo shared some frustrating statistics on how cisgender, white, able-bodied, gay men typically receive less funding than their straight counterparts. Imagine those numbers, he added, when we layer in the intersectionality of gender, race, ability, etc. This in turn sparked another discussion about whether an EY-sponsored LGBT+ program only leaves us divided but while our sexual orientation (or any of our myriad identities) should not impact access and ultimately success, the data demonstrates otherwise; hence the importance of these EY entrepreneur access programs.
Some Final Thoughts
Inspiration and education aside, I'll be honest: I had doubts about attending until a heartfelt chat with EY Canada's EY Entrepreneur Access Network Program Director Josée Rioux and my mentor in the program Rachel Rodrigues convinced me to go and I am so grateful that they did. I feel honoured, humbled and blessed to have made some amazing connections with attendees from Canada, the US, Germany, the UK and Switzerland, and I had a number of extremely productive meetings, thanks to my EY Partner Host Christopher Gordon who sums up this program succinctly:
"The power of entrepreneurship for all is to help build connections and relationships across diverse networks and business to collaborate, connect and innovate together. When you remove those barriers and create opportunities and spaces where people can create and connect authentically with one another, great things can and will result."
Heartfelt thanks and big ups to EY and especially EY Canada for their commitment, support and faith in Breakfast Culture Inc. This is how we break some eggs!
Breakfast Culture's approach improves workplace cultures, creates empathy in business, and drives new sources of revenue. Schedule a talk on Calendly with me today to learn more: https://calendly.com/jefferson7/30min Let's Break Some Eggs! – Jefferson Darrell, Founder & CEO, Breakfast Culture™ Inc.