Jamaican-Canadian Janice Bartley is the founder of Foodpreneur Lab, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing solutions that support Black Canadians who want to start food businesses. She founded the nonprofit in 2019, and in 2021, Bartley’s organization was one of 20 nonprofits based in Ontario to receive the support of the Black Entrepreneurship Fund. Through the fund, she will receive $3 million over the next four years to support 200 Black food entrepreneurs bringing food products to Canada’s market.
Bartley’s organization offers aid through its Advisor-Led Startup and Scale Up Program and provides the resources and access that allow aspiring “foodpreneurs” use their lived experience and cultural insights to create innovative food products. This is the only nonprofit in Canada founded and headed by a Canadian Black woman. She has a mandate to advance racial and gender equity by supporting Canadian Start Up and Scale Up food operations and is proud to be able to improve the lives of Black foodpreneurs by developing opportunities and relationships that inspire and raise up Black communities in Canada.
Bartley was inspired to create Foodpreneur Lab by her own life experiences, including the challenges of handling intergenerational single-mother households, surviving being unhoused in the GTA, overcoming the personal and professional obstacles that arose from being a single mother and businesswoman. She and her life partner of 20 years co-managed a culinary school for a decade before she had to recover from unexpectedly losing her partner.
Bartley was born in Canada to Jamaican parents, but she spent her teen years in Jamaica. She left Jamaica and returned to Canada after graduating from high school. As she matured, she attained a new appreciation of old friends and the unique experiences she had in Jamaica. She describes herself as a “proud Campionite” who has a strong and supportive alumni community. Bartley credits her Jamaican upbringing with teaching her a lot about life.
According to Bartley, Foodpreneur Lab is an extension of her lived experiences and of all the women who influenced her. She said that Jamaica is a matriarchal society and that she has had many female role models who prepared her for her life as a foodpreneur. Her mother Fay Bartley was the first female and the first Black person to serve as manager of Air Canada at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. Pearl King, her aunt, was a pioneer in the male-dominated construction industry and had her own construction company in Kingston. Hessie Wiggan, her grandmother operated her own haberdashery shop in Westmoreland in the late 1920s, and another aunt, Grezzel Cathnott, a registered nurse, received the 2019 Partners of Good Shepherd/Mustard Seed Communities award in recognition of her efforts to support poor and vulnerable Jamaicans.
There were other women along the way who showed Bartley how to embrace her Black identity, culture, and beauty during her adolescence. She was given an example of female empowerment by Berl Francis, a business partner in one of the top public relations firms in Jamaica. Dr. Donna McFarlane, the director/curator of the National Gallery of Ontario convinced her she could be or do anything she wanted to do, while sociologist Marlene Thomlinson showed her the value of a “no-nonsense Black woman, and entrepreneur and artist Camille Parchment taught her about the value of self-expression. Sonja Williams made her aware of her roots.