Ottawa’s Black Business Expo: Promoting And Bridging the Visibility Gap.

A few years ago, Cassandra Auguste-Rene had a vision – to host a recognition night celebrating Black men in the Ottawa community. She had secured a venue and paid for the hall, eagerly anticipating the event. However, the world had other plans. As COVID-19 swept across the globe, everything came to a grinding halt, and Cassandra’s recognition night was put on indefinite hold. Undeterred, Cassandra and three of her partners embarked on a new business venture. As they navigated the process of hiring professional services, they encountered an unexpected roadblock – an information asymmetry that made it challenging to source service providers from within the Black community. This experience sparked an idea, a realization that a platform was needed to promote Black-owned businesses and bridge the visibility gap.

With restrictions easing in 2022, Cassandra and her friends at It’s Time Events saw an opportunity. They repurposed the previously booked venue, initially intended for the recognition night, and instead hosted the first Black Business Expo in Ottawa. This inaugural event marked the beginning of a journey to uplift and empower underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending the third edition of this remarkable expo, and it left an indelible impression on me. Curated by the talented team at It’s Time Events, the Black Business Expo has grown into an impressive event, providing a much-needed platform for Black-owned businesses to showcase their offerings, network with like-minded individuals, and gain well-deserved recognition.

I discovered the Black Business Expo during its first edition, having arrived in Ottawa two years prior, in the thick of the pandemic. At the time, I was keenly researching business networks and events to get involved in when I stumbled upon the Black Business Expo. Although I don’t recall all the details vividly now, what I remember clearly was that it was a small event. Coming from experience, I wasn’t surprised, as underserved businesses often struggle to establish thriving platforms due to a lack of resources and institutional support. However, I was happy to have found this community and was encouraged that someone was already doing something to create a platform for Black Businesses, Entrepreneurs and Professionals.

Fast forward to 2023 (the second edition), I had made a note to attend. On the day, I headed to the EY Center, where it was being hosted. Having never been inside the EY Center before, except for occasionally driving by it on my way to the airport, I didn’t know what to expect. Lo and behold, my unprepared expectations were blown away by the majestically designed hall and the beauty of the expo’s arrangements! I was super impressed, to say the least!

With the clear success of year two and my observation of the improvements from year one, I felt strongly that this team had something special going on, so I made a placeholder for year three, which has come and gone, and I’m sharing my experience.

This year, I had a plan from the outset:

  1. I had some ideas, feedback, and suggestions for the organizers.
  2. I wanted to exhibit as a vendor to share my marketing experience with the hopes it could benefit other small businesses and the event’s attendees as well as network with other professionals.

My ideas and suggestions were accepted by the organizers, which meant that, to some extent, I followed the event’s buildup because Gobuyhub produced some of the video skits and vendor spotlight videos used to promote the expo. These videos went on to garner thousands of views on Instagram. So, through the process of producing the video skits and spotlight videos I got exposed to and connected with several Black Entrepreneurs and Professionals in Ottawa whom I ordinarily wouldn’t have known existed. Spread across different sectors, it was a rare moment to get to showcase them because I felt like people needed to know that they could access diverse services from within their community.

This brings me to the expo day itself. This time, the venue was downtown at the Shaw Center. I have mixed feelings about the choice of this venue. Don’t get me wrong, the Shaw Center is grand and amazing, but I can’t help but feel that the idea of finding parking downtown could be a deterrent for some people, making the Shaw Center a less appealing venue. Secondly, the parking costs $20 for the day. The event tickets cost between $7-$17 (children to adults), so if you consider a family of four attending, the costs can add up quickly. However, on the other hand, the EY Center is a bit on the outskirts of town, tucked away in the south end of Ottawa. While parking costs a flat fee of $10, you may also need to invest a bit in gas to commute back and forth (depending on where you’re coming from). And the registration fees still apply anyway, so it takes some investment regardless, all of which, in my opinion, is eventually worth it for the value the expo offers!

But venue logistics aside, the event hall still came with its fantastic setup, hosting 160+ vendors across various zones assigned according to business sectors. As I made my way through the bustling expo halls, I felt a sense of pride and excitement. Vendors from diverse industries – from fashion and culinary arts to wellness and finance – came together, each with their unique stories and products. The energy was palpable, evidence to the resilience and determination of these entrepreneurs who had overcome countless obstacles to pursue their dreams. There was also a children’s play zone where I saw kids shooting their shots, trying to make baskets!

There were panels on different topics, mostly consisting of successful Black professionals and entrepreneurs who could share their experiences with the audience. There was a panel on entrepreneurship, health and wellness, among others, but my favorite was the Youth Panel. I appreciate the discourse by the next-generation as they dissected the role of social media and real life. I was impressed to hear a panelist admit that social media hypes entrepreneurship, which as he said “in real life really isn’t as glamorous” when you get to do the actual work. The Black Business Expo also packed dignitaries, with the Mayor of Ottawa, Mark Sutcliffe in attendance as well as the Ottawa’s first black councilor, the amiable Rawlson King, councilor representing Ottawa’s Ward 13 Rideau Rockcliffe.

Overall, I will highly recommend the Black Business Expo as an event to put on your to-do list for next year and the years to come. However, there is a snag which you probably can help solve; the Black Business Expo needs our support to gain the visibility it rightfully deserves. This platform, which offers immense value to underrepresented entrepreneurs, must be amplified and promoted to reach a broader audience that can benefit from its mission. By supporting this event, we are not merely attending a trade show; we are investing in the future of entrepreneurship, fostering inclusivity, and paving the way for a more equitable business landscape. Whether it’s through spreading the word, volunteering, or actively engaging with the organizers, every contribution matters.

What began as a recognition night for Black men in the community has evolved into a powerful movement, creating visibility, connection, and support for Black-owned businesses; it’s a beacon of hope, a reminder that barriers can be broken, and dreams can be realized when we come together and create opportunities for underrepresented communities to thrive.

If you would like to learn more you can reach the team at Its Time Events through their email at;

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for more small business updates!

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