Startup program provides youth with support to create and buy their own businesses

A fireside chat at the Ohpikiwin: Growing Indigenous Entrepreneurship event. (l-r) Panel Moderator Melissa Gladue, and Panel Members Candace Linklater, Crystal Wright, Moirae Choquette, and Ken Letander. Photo by Kinnukana.

by Kinnukana, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

(ANNews) – The Ohpikiwin: Growing Indigenous Entrepreneurship event took place on Saturday, November 4th, 2023, at the Alberta Avenue Community League in Edmonton, Alberta. This free event was presented by Futurpreneur’s Indigenous Entrepreneurship Startup Program (IESP) and aims to foster entrepreneurship, innovation and collaboration as well as empower aspiring Indigenous entrepreneurs across the region.

Ohpikiwin is the Cree word for ‘growth.’ The Ohpikiwin Series: Journey to Financial Empowerment focuses on assisting aspiring Indigenous entrepreneurs to overcome challenges, develop and grow their business capacity and skills. The national program is delivered in partnership by Futurpreneur, Youth Business International and Accenture.

Holly Atjecoutay, IESP Program Director. Photo by Kinnukana.

Indigenous entrepreneurs face unique challenges when launching or growing their businesses. IESP Program Director Holly Atjecoutay said that “Indigenous people face way more challenges than Non-Indigenous entrepreneurs, especially if they live on-reserve. There is stigmatism against Indigenous people, who have to battle stereotypes and racism. Indigenous people are also not the greatest at selling themselves or their business. They are taught by Elders to be kind and humble, also not to be egotistical. Therefore, some Indigenous entrepreneurs don’t feel comfortable talking about themselves that much and they face challenges getting into the markets.”

Indigenous people often also face barriers to accessing resources, funding and capital. Most small businesses get started using an individual’s own resources. A lot of Indigenous people don’t have additional resources to rely on. Holly said that Futurpreneur offers these resources to young Indigenous people who want to start and grow a business.

Traditionally at Futurpreneur, there was a credit rating system in order to qualify, but a lot of Indigenous people were scoring outside of the matrix. Holly shared that Futurpreneur made a conscious decision to change the rating and approve low credit clients to receive up to ten thousand dollars for start up capital. People who would not be able to get financing otherwise can now qualify.

The IESP supports Indigenous entrepreneurs aged eighteen to thirty-nine, helping them create or buy their own business. Young Indigenous entrepreneurs can receive up to $60,000 in collateral-free financing, are matched with an expert mentor for up to two years, and gain access to an array of resources and workshops designed to help them set up their businesses for success.

Every year, Futurpreneur launches about fifty businesses. They also support approximately one thousand people through the various programming they offer, such as workshops, one-on-one advisory supports, mentorship, peer-to-peer networking, and business plan reviews, including offering information events like Ohpikiwin.

At the event, approximately one hundred attendees listened to a fireside chat with four business leaders, Candace Linklater, Visionary and Founder of Relentless Indigenous Woman Company,  Moirae Choquette, CEO and Founder of Tomato Wheels, Ken Letander, Owner and CEO of Strat First Inc., and Crystal Wright, E,E & I Human Resources, Scotiabank, who shared their business journeys and provided expert advice. The panel was moderated by Melissa Gladue, Business Development Manager for the region.

Ken Letander, Owner and CEO Strat First Inc. Photo by Kinnukana.

Panel member Ken Letander emphasized the importance of ethical practices as a business owner. He said, “In today’s world, there are challenges within the business and corporate sector where there is a lack of resources on many different fronts. People have to report on what they are doing in the business sector. If a business does not have the ethics and integrity, people in the community will start to see that and point it out among your networks. It will spread like wildfire. Ethics is important and you can convey that through transparency as a person and on your website. It is important to not commit to things you cannot do. I’ve seen that happen too many times and it affects the outcome for individuals and communities who want to access resources in the future.”

Participants had an opportunity to network throughout the evening, share business ideas and tips, as several Indigenous service providers and business leaders were in attendance. Aspiring Indigenous entrepreneurs also had an opportunity to pitch their business to a panel for a $500 prize. The pitch competition winner chosen by the judges was Roxanne Auger for her 360 photo booth idea, and the audience favourite was Paula Jefferson, for her Cree Iskwew Design business which has a jewelry line and sells essential oils.

Indigenous Individuals, between the ages of eighteen to thirty-nine, can apply to Futurpreneur for financing, mentorship and resources throughout the year. To be eligible, individuals must be self-identified as Indigenous, a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada, employed full-time by the business within the first year or students in their final year of studies, and must not have claimed bankruptcy in the last five years.

For more information and to sign up with a local Futurpreneur team member and get started on your entrepreneurship journey, go to Indigenous Program – Futurpreneur Canada

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