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Black Entrepreneurs in the Toronto Region: Spotlight on James Shipp

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(Picture: James Shipp and his son, James Shipp Jr., at their Los Angeles office of Shipp Shape Media.)

At Toronto Global, we continually reflect on the unique experiences of our clients from around the world and recognize their contributions to our regional economy. From the nature of our organization’s core mission, we appreciate the diversity of many cultures and ethnicities in both our personal and professional lives. Our staff are all people who live, work, and play in the Toronto Region – coming from all walks of life, representing the multicultural fabric of our Canadian identity.

With all of the racial, social, and political issues that have continued to deeply impact our society, Toronto Global is set on being part of the conversation and progressing our diversity, inclusion, and equity practices. And in honour of Black History Month, we are celebrating the incredible stories of Black owned businesses that we have supported in expanding to the Toronto Region.

We talked to James Shipp, the owner of a marketing and advertising agency (Shipp Media Group) with an extensive history and an organic, health-focused, Black-owned restaurant in Port Credit (RawBlendz); established in June 2020. James has over 20 years of experience, carving a path to success that first started in Phoenix, Arizona.

Tell us about how your journey started.

My career started in commercial television production in Phoenix, Arizona, which is where I eventually grew a media consulting business, Shipp Shape Media. One of my most treasured memories from my early career is working with the state of Arizona and the city of Phoenix to celebrate the adoption of Martin Luther King Day as a recognized holiday. Not only did we establish a state-wide directory of Black businesses, but we also led the marketing and advertising efforts to promote MLK Day.

Fun fact – Stevie Wonder publicly announced that he wouldn’t perform in Arizona until it recognized MLK Day. After the holiday was finally established in 1992, we brought on Stevie Wonder to participate in Arizona’s first MLK celebration!

From there, how did you move to the Toronto Region?

I grew up in northeastern Ohio, only five or six hours from Toronto, and I was already traveling for business to Canada on a regular basis throughout my career to-date. Around 2016, I first met with a representative from Toronto Global and learned about the advantages of expanding my business to the Toronto Region. After I looked into the region and did some research on my own, I decided to move a division of my company over to Toronto (now known as Shipp Media Group). Toronto Global supported me throughout the entire process – they found the attorney, connected me to accountants, and helped me procure office space downtown.

When I got to Toronto, I realized that there weren’t many programs dedicated to assisting minorities or women. In efforts to work with minority businesses here in the Toronto Region and to give back to the Black Canadian community, one of my first clients in Toronto was the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce. To this day, I’m proud to be supporting this organization in elevating the voices of Black Canadian businesses and entrepreneurs.

What challenges have you faced as a Black entrepreneur and how do you approach overcoming those challenges?

Black Lives Matter opened eyes on both sides of the border. It really shows the systemic ceiling that exists for members of minority groups, like myself. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work in the marketing industry for most of my career. I do everything in this industry, from radio and television to print and advertising. I speak and market in two languages. Basically, I have to be Superman to get a client, and I have Black friends who had to be over-achieving in every industry in order to gain business. It’s really hard on a small business.

In the U.S., the growth of racialized communities was directly tied to how business was done. I learned how to procure major corporations incentivized by tax benefits to work with minority businesses and distributed marketing dollars for community-based ethnic and cultural festivals. For example, I worked with the United Negro College Fund to produce Black entertainment television programs.

Here in Canada, and working with the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce as a client, I hope to help resolve this gap in procurement opportunities. In lieu of a government grant program that supports minority businesses, I encourage organizations to partner with larger corporations and broaden their horizons to private funding.

What do you want to say to other Black owned businesses looking to expand to the Toronto Region?

Becoming an entrepreneur in Canada is both simple and complex. It’s tough finding the right programs and connecting to the right people on this path of entrepreneurship, all while maintaining your business. The hurdle lies in the transfer of knowledge to Black and minority owned businesses, who face a significant cultural and institutional shift in moving to Canada.

That being said, everything is fertile ground to build a business in the Toronto Region. Your innovative ideas, your unique position, and your breadth of knowledge are needed here. In Toronto, you’ll only be judged by your actions and achievements – you will not be judged by your skin colour. It’s a breath of fresh air for any minority business coming in from the U.S.

My advice? Join the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce, find out what you need help with, and most importantly, engage Toronto Global. Toronto Global is great at knowing what questions you need answers for, and they help you answer them. The opportunities are right here in the Toronto Region.

— James Shipp


To learn more about what Toronto Global is doing to promote diversity and inclusion, go here.

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