Stephan James, brothers raising funds for Canada’s largest venture fund for Black founders
The actor, along with his brothers, Shamier Anderson and Sheldon James, launched the Bay Mills Diversity Fund to support BIPOC businesses.
Famed actors Shamier Anderson and Stephan James along with their brother Sheldon James have launched a new fund to support the business endeavors of BIPOC in Canada.
The brothers shared their motivation behind the project during a new interview with Forbes. When Sheldon James faced difficulties launching his own cannabis business, he realized it might be a shared experience between him and other Black people hoping to become successful entrepreneurs.
“I met a set of challenges as an entrepreneur that was difficult to overcome,” Sheldon said to Forbes. “That’s what brought us into venture capital: to implicate that change for BIPOC entrepreneurs around getting financing for a business, and being able to scale it.”
Together, the trio created the Bay Mills Diversity Fund, part of their firm Bay Mills Investment Group, as a solution. Named after the Toronto housing project where they grew up with a single mother, the initiative has closed CA$15 million of a planned CA$100 million funds to back early-stage startups with at least one BIPOC founder, according to Forbes.
“We are really speaking from a place of experience,” added Stephan, according to the outlet. “We realized we built these businesses, these careers that have fortunately transcended to the U.S. and the world, but not everyone is in that same situation.”
His brother Sheldon added, “we are leading by example and are super proud to be doing it.”
According to Forbes, the brothers aim to make about 50 investments from the fund. Industries focused on by the investments are Edtech, Fintech, Medtech, real estate, and cannabis, which they believe are areas where minorities are underrepresented.
The brothers hope to invest with checks ranging from CA$500,000 to CA$5 million across the board.
According to Forbes, Sheldon James arrived at the idea after watching his brothers, two successful actors, work against racism and discrimination in the Canadian film industry and the gained inspiration from their non-profit organization B.L.A.C.K. Canada (Building a Legacy in Acting, Cinema + Knowledge.)
Variety reported in December 2020, Anderson and Stephan James launched The Black Academy, an extension of B.L.A.C.K. Canada. According to the website, the non-profit is “dedicated to breaking down barriers of discrimination and combating systemic racism in Canada.
By honoring, celebrating, and showcasing established and emerging Black talent, The Black Academy will “elevate and inspire Black talent in both the Anglophone and Francophone communities across the country” for generations to come.
“Shamier and I asked ourselves, what if we stopped waiting on other people to acknowledge us and we just acknowledged ourselves here at home? We see so many examples of individuals who had to garner some level of success in the United States before Canada really embraced them,” said James when asked about the inspiration behind B.L.A.C.K.
“Drake is the most obvious example of somebody who was embraced by the United States before Canada really fully accepted him.”
His brother Shamier added, “The goal is to activate corporate Canada to really align themselves with us and stand next to us in supporting this. Canada Media Fund was the first to really believe in this, and we know that they’re not going to be the last.”
“This is why we built an Avenger team of board of directors. It’s not lost on us that where Stephan and I will fall short, we’ll be able to lean on these individuals to access their resources to really keep this alive and go full-throttle in building this coalition. There’s many more seats that we have to fill on the board of directors and we’re excited to start filling those as well,” Shamier concluded.
The board of directors is a six-member team: Vanessa Craft, director of content partnerships at TikTok Canada, Alica Hall, executive director of Nia Centre for the Arts, Wes Hall, founder and chair of the BlackNorth Initiative, Jennifer Holness board chair of Black Screen Office, Divya Shahani, a Toronto-based entertainment lawyer), and Tonya Williams, actor and founder/executive director of Reelworld Film Festival.
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