Kamika McLean – WeShall Investments
Originally from the East African republic of Cameroon, Gilles Tchianga had taken well to Ontario. It’s where he furthered his education at Centennial College and the University of Ottawa before settling in the Toronto area and becoming a teacher.
Only something seemed missing.
Though the city is home to ethnic grocers and restaurants, Tchianga couldn’t find the products to cook the cuisine of his native land. Having a background in food processing, he combined ingredients from other African stores with those common in Canada and concocted his sauces and beverages that had his friends’ mouths watering. So, Tchianga thought, why not start his own food company?
He reckoned that $60,000 would get him off the ground and last year, he pitched on “Dragons’ Den”—the Canadian equivalent of “Shark Tank.” His pitch was granted 10 times over when another immigrant, the Jamaican-born venture capitalist Wes Hall, offered to invest $600,000.
Another Jamaican immigrant, Kamika McLean, general counsel of Hall’s firm, KSS HoldCo, helped vet Tchianga’s plan. And on this past Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, KSS HoldCo was rebranded as WeShall Investments Inc.
As for the new name? It’s a play on Wes Hall’s name and a tribute to the timeless civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”
BIPOC need apply
As McLean explains, while WeShall mulls investing in socially responsible and viable enterprises in Canada, the United States and Caribbean, it takes special interest in enabling the dreams of traditionally disadvantaged constituencies, specifically the BIPOC space as in Blacks, Indigenous and Peoples of Color. And, as she emphasizes, it takes a dream mixed with sweat for this community to overcome—as McLean did—high odds.
“I love the quote, ‘If your dreams don’t scare you a little, they aren’t big enough,” she tells Vanguard.
Tchianga’s dream was big and viable, she concluded while crunching numbers and getting to know him. He intends to democratize African cuisine in North America and has the recipe. After his “Dragon’s Den” appearance, McLean noted how social media lit up and what a warmhearted man he seemed.
Now it was up to her to integrate his Taltis Foods as a WeShall’s partnership and help make it work. The equity firm wouldn’t hold Tchianga’s hand but would introduce his product to major retailers and other investors and help him manage risk.
“His products are doing great now and only in their infancy,” McLean says.
The same holds, she says, for WeShall’s investment in Hutsy, Canada’s newest financial super-app that allows customers to spend their money and track their spending with no monthly fees. Its founder, a Black man named Tefari Bailey, also made his pitch on “Dragons’ Den” and, with the support of WeShall, garnered $500,000 in investments. It and Taltis Foods are part of a growing WeShall family that includes Kingsdale Advisors, QM Environmental, The Harbor Club, ESG Global Advisors, BIPOC Executive Search, Titan Supply and Aisle24.
If there’s a common denominator, McLean says all holdings have a strong minority presence, be it race, gender or sexual orientation. It’s part of the WeShall modus operandi that she says is being vindicated.
“HoldCo invested in the business, but WeShall is people-first,” she says. “I won’t say business is second, but it’s a complementary component. We look to companies, businesses and individuals who would be otherwise marginalized but have a great product or idea. We uplift them.”
Since the pandemic, WeShall portfolio companies have collectively generated $1.1 billion in economic output and provided 3,800 jobs.
Leveling the field
While McLean lauds Canada for its generally progressive mindset, she says biases remain a fact of life. Hall might not have achieved his success had he not dealt with a Black banker receptive to the idea of someone who looked like him. There aren’t enough BIPOC executives in the C-suites, and she and her boss are putting the firm’s money where its principles are. Would-be start-ups looking for WeShall seed money better take notice.
“I won’t work with a lily-white firm,” McLean says. “We’re setting our own bar.”
As to how she navigated her success, that took much doing. While her mother pushed her to be her best, there’s just one university in Jamaica, and McLean says she wanted a worldlier perspective. With her father in Ontario, she earned her undergrad degree at York University before crossing The Pond to study public health at Brunel University and then law at City University of London.
McLean stayed overseas for eight years, traveling through Europe and North Africa and combining her passion for law and public health with research papers on subjects such as the stigma of HIV and AIDS in the immigrant Black Caribbean community. But much as public health always holds her interest, she turned to law in Toronto.
After articling, she worked in real estate law before becoming an associate at a general firm. She met Hall, who took a professional interest in this Jamaican native also making her mark in a Canadian profession. In February 2020, she became part of his team and what a pivotal year it proved, what with the George Floyd murder in Minnesota being felt on both sides of the border. In a macabre way, McLean says Floyd’s death spurred social and economic progress, and Hall seeing a greater role for her.
“He looked at me as another visible minority helping to bring his vision forward,” McLean says. “What I offer isn’t just another legal, business or operational perspective. I also offer a more powerful determinant of good leadership, emotional intelligence.”
That asset won’t just be used for assessing WeShall’s prospective partnerships. This summer McLean was appointed by the federal government to be on a seven-member advisory committee for judicial nominees in Ontario.
As the only minority and one of just two women, she’ll make her voice heard. The last judicial census of 2020 showed just 18 percent minority representation in the province. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Michael Tulloch, to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2022, making him the first Black chief justice in any province, McLean says it was just a start.
“I take full weight and responsibility of this, my personal mandate, to get more minorities on the bench,” McLean says. “Not just Blacks, but women, people with disabilities, gays, and people of all colors. We can’t have a bench that’s not reflective of our diverse society.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Fall III 2023 Edition here.
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