Resources for Indigenous Entrepreneurs in Canada

Over 20 years ago, Joella Hogan started Yukon Soaps Company as a way to combine her passion for connecting with her community, elders, land and language. “Happily, I’ve been able to do all of that through the Yukon Soaps Company, by using local plants in my formulations, employing local youth, using Na-cho Nyak Dun beadwork and plant knowledge, and by sprinkling in Northern Tutchone language wherever I can,” says Hogan. She asks elders and kids to gather wild rose petals and juniper berries that are used to produce the soaps, which are snapped up by tourists as a Yukon souvenir.

Hogan’s business is just one example of many successful enterprises run by First Nations, Metis and Inuit people in Canada.

How Indigenous-owned businesses impact their community

Indigenous peoples are creating new businesses at five times the rate of non-Indigenous peoples, and those businesses are worth billions. According to Statistics Canada, there are nearly 19,000 businesses located in Indigenous communities (approximately 17,000 in First Nations communities and 2,000 in Inuit communities), which together generate just over $10 billion in total revenue. Besides generating revenue for their owners, Indigenous-owned businesses have impacts on the community such as providing essential goods and services, along with creating jobs: more than one in three Indigenous businesses create employment for others.

Indigenous enterprises can sometimes be motivated by more than revenue, such as their environmental footprint and their social impacts on the community. A Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub report found many Indigenous women entrepreneurs identify themselves as “creators” who see their work as a creative outlet as well as a means of meeting the needs of their communities: “ Many Indigenous women entrepreneurs use traditional knowledge or cultural expressions in their business. At the same time, many are exporters and innovators of new products, services, and processes.”

Resources for Indigenous entrepreneurs

If you’re an aspiring business owner or plan to grow your enterprise, here are some resources available to Indigenous entrepreneurs in Canada.

NACCA: National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA) is the umbrella organization for a network of 59 Aboriginal Financial Institutions (AFIs) across Canada. Over the last 30 years, the network has provided nearly $3 billion to support economic development, along with the unique and specific needs of 50,000 Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Indigenous communities. On top of that, NACCA runs the Indigenous Women Entrepreneurship (IWE) Program to develop tools, resources, and supports for Indigenous women to build or grow their businesses.

Pow Wow Pitch: Indigenous entrepreneurs can enter this competition that puts a spotlight on pow wow vendors, artists, business builders and innovators from all backgrounds and industries, whether they’re just starting or looking to grow. In 2021, more than 1,600 Indigenous entrepreneurs pitched their businesses online.

Futurpreneur: Futurpreneur Canada supports Indigenous entrepreneurs, between the ages of 18 and 39, in launching or buying their own business. With up to $60,000 in financing, an expert mentor for up to two years and access to other resources, the organization can help young entrepreneurs bring their business idea to life.

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC): The Indigenous Entrepreneur Loan can provide up to $350,000 to cover start-up costs, pay franchise fees, or take other steps to grow your business. There’s also an Inuktitut version of their guide, titled How to get a business loan.

Small Business BC: B.C. is home to the second largest number of Indigenous entrepreneurs in Canada, with over 2,000 Indigenous-owned businesses located across the province. This non-profit organization suggests business resources and support for Indigenous peoples in B.C. and elsewhere.

Canadian Centre for Aboriginal Entrepreneurship (CCAE): This B.C.-based organization offers entrepreneurship training to First Nations, Métis and Inuit people who are interested in starting their own business. Virtual webinars are available.

I-ACE: This is Canada's only Indigenous co-designed and community delivered entrepreneurship program. The I-ACE program provides prospective entrepreneurs with the skills, knowledge and mentorship needed to successfully start and manage a business, serve the community with confidence, and foster economic development without foregoing traditional Indigenous values.

Pauktuutit: The Inuit Women in Business Network offers mentorships and support for Inuk women anywhere in Canada who run any type of business.

Indigenous Entrepreneur Guide to Starting a Business: The Government of Ontario has a guide to licenses and regulations, finding support, sources for funding, plus information on selling to the government.

Indigenous Business Development Toolkit: This guide from the Government of Ontario offers business tips such as how to hire staff and deciding when to sell a business.

Indigenous Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (ICIE): When it opens in 2023, this Toronto building is intended to provide space, business programming, advisory services, mentorship supports, shared co-workspace, community event space and connections to business networks.

Entreprises Québec: The Indigenous Entrepreneurs site lists organizations that can help to develop business ideas. These organizations offer financing and a wide variety of information.

Women in Business New Brunswick: This organization offers services to Indigenous female entrepreneurs, including help with business plans, monthly meetings and an online marketplace to sell crafts.

Whether running small businesses that serve local needs or larger enterprises designed to export abroad, Indigenous entrepreneurs are having an impact on their communities.

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