Bow Valley College instructor breaking ground with immigrant entrepreneur research

When Bunmi Obateru presented her research findings at recent conferences in Ontario and Alberta, some key statistics drew attention from attendees.

Facts like 65 per cent of billion-dollar companies in the United States are run by immigrants or children of immigrants, and 33 per cent of small businesses in Canada are run by immigrants, garnered a lot of interest in Bunmi’s innovative applied research.

“Nobody else is doing what we're doing and I'm excited for Bow Valley College that we're becoming thought leaders in the space of entrepreneurship and immigrants,” Bunmi says. “We're leading, we're breaking ground, and it's a really good place to be in.”

Bunmi is Lead Researcher of Bow Valley College’s Black Entrepreneur Project, established in March 2022. She is an instructor with the Chiu School of Business and has been at the college since 2018.

Her first applied research project, which concluded in October, has led to presentations to Alberta Innovates, PrairiesCan, the Black Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Symposium in Ottawa, and the Medicine Hat College Impact Symposium. Her work has also garnered interviews on international and Canadian podcasts and drawn attention from entrepreneurs in the community.

“The entrepreneurs are excited and they now know Bow Valley College applied research,” she says. “That's the buzzword in our community, that when it comes to research, Bow Valley College is the first to listen and Bow Valley College has answers, and Bow Valley College is looking for ways to make the economy more inclusive.”

The six-month project that wrapped up in October was supported by Mitacs through the Mitacs Accelerate Program and industry partners Dipo Alli (The Black Business Ventures Association) and Emmanuel Oluwatosin (Startupcourt). Rafael Bertini, a Bow Valley College student, was the student intern supporting Bunmi. The study explored barriers and opportunities for English-speaking immigrant Black entrepreneurs from Calgary and Edmonton. Black immigrants comprise up to 70 per cent of Alberta’s Black population (which is unique to Alberta).

On the heels of this successful study, other applied research projects are expected to begin in May, including work to inform Alberta’s first immigrant-focused venture studio.

“They're coming to the country with ideas, but we need to tap into that potential to help diversify the economy,” she says. “So that's where we're going. All the research we're doing is to help create this venture studio – the entrepreneur comes in and we help them so that they can grow.”

The researcher is appreciative of the Bow Valley College community members who have supported her applied research journey so far, including President Misheck Mwaba, Craig Elias, Tasneem Rahim, Tanya McDonald, Eddie Sargent, and Andreas Lambrinoudis.

“The journey is a little rough when you're starting something new; when you're breaking ground. When you have allies like that - I feel lucky.”

Bunmi has colleagues who are interested in pursuing their own applied research in different areas. The instructor and lead researcher is glad to play a leadership role in walking others through that journey.

“Applied research is connecting with community members and walking step by step with them to define this problem and working with them to identify solutions,” Bunmi says. “It's new, it's diverse. It's the way to go.”

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