Futurpreneur’s Indigenous Entrepreneur Program: A Step Towards Economic Reconciliation
Launched in 2019, the Indigenous Entrepreneur Startup Program (IESP) is one of several startup programs offered by Futurpreneur – Canada’s only non-profit organization that provides financing and mentorship to budding entrepreneurs ages 18-39. Established with the goal of providing tailored support and programming for young Indigenous entrepreneurs, this program helps them overcome barriers to success and streamline the process of establishing a small business.
Under the direction of Cree-Saulteaux entrepreneur, Holly Atjecoutay, young Indigenous entrepreneurs can receive up to CAD $60,0000 in financing, are matched with an expert mentor for up to two years, and gain access to an array of resources and workshops designed to guide their startup journey. Since the program’s launch, more than 100 young Indigenous entrepreneurs have received financing and mentorship from Futurpreneur programming to launch businesses in industries that range from clothing and marketing to hairdressing and leasing camping inventory.
For Atjecoutay, the opportunity to lead the IESP felt natural as it expands on her expertise in working to empower Aboriginal youth to realize their dreams, build generational wealth, and create new opportunities in their community. Atjecoutay says she was drawn to Futurpreneur because “it is a nationwide initiative, not constricted by provincial borders.” She added, “It presents an opportunity to build a community and to build programming that is specific to our Indigenous entrepreneurs, to our Indigenous communities, and particularly to our Indigenous youth so that they can see themselves as part of the greater national entrepreneurial ecosystem. The programs will focus on their specific needs, present solutions to challenges they experience, and will give nuance to their perception of what defines a successful business.”
Atjecoutay has been able to draw many parallels between entrepreneurs today and First Nations peoples who lived in egalitarian societies where “people very much took care of one another. Everyone held a strong role in society, which nowadays really translates to what we would consider as ‘entrepreneurship’ or a ‘business.’ So, that's where I started to draw those finite lines to what our communities can do on a grassroots level, to ensure that we're prosperous and that we're building a positive and prosperous future for our next generations.”
Continuing to develop a robust offering that is Indigenous-centric is at the top of Atjecoutay’s plans for the IESP. A combination of her lived experience and know-how as “a First Nations woman living within an urban centre,” she said, will guide her next steps in developing programming that addresses the root problems and challenges that young, Indigenous entrepreneurs encounter, but also highlights the opportunities, networks, and systems in place to support them. “There are positive and negative pieces, just like everything else, but we want to focus on the positive and what our young Indigenous entrepreneurs bring. That is their value proposition, niche, and unique business models so that we can amplify that and support them in various ways.”
Ultimately, she said, my goal is to “foster collaboration between Indigenous businesses to support one another, which will eventually bolster the economic resurgence that we're working toward.”
Enrolled in the program is entrepreneur and marketing expert, Kaeden Merasty, a member of the Cree Flying Dust First Nation Band and founder of The Indigenous Marketing Company. Through his startup, Kaeden provides an array of marketing, copywriting, and digital media services to Indigenous businesses. After earning a Bachelor's in Commerce, with a specialization in both marketing and international business, Kaeden began operating out of the Swan Lake First Nation offices in Headingley and quickly built up the company’s clientele and brand image. With an emphasis on empowerment and equal opportunity IMC’s goal is to support Indigenous communities, and individuals, who may otherwise be marginalized – in his own words he wants “to help as many Indigenous people as [he] can.”
Located just outside of Winnipeg, Cru Barber & Co. is a full-service barbershop supported by the IESP. Founder Mitch McLeod started practicing on his brothers as children before receiving a cosmetology diploma and completing his apprenticeship to become certified. After relocating to Niverville in 2021, McLeod wanted to focus on cultivating a community atmosphere through an inviting and relaxing in-shop experience and by providing clients with confidence through premium quality grooming services. There are nods to McLeod’s Cree heritage throughout the branding and design of the shop. Pieces such as a bison skull, sage and smudge shells can be found throughout the space and the “C” in the Cru logo is a sweetgrass braid. “These touches make our Indigenous clients feel especially welcome and invites curiosity from our non-Indigenous clients. It’s great to be able to share my culture with people that may not have been exposed to it otherwise,” he said.
Indigenous-owned businesses contribute millions of dollars every year to the Canadian economy and provide thousands of jobs to Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees across the nation. “Their contributions are an important pillar of the economy, yet there is not enough awareness about the significance of Indigenous-owned and operated businesses, which is a huge barrier to success when you’re starting a small or medium-sized business,” Atjecoutay said. “I'm incredibly honoured to take on this new and exciting role, alongside the Indigenous Entrepreneur Startup Program team, to amplify Indigenous resilience and make a tangible difference in the best way that we can,” she said.
Learn more about Futurpreneur’s Indigenous Entrepreneur Startup Program team and offering here. Join our Facebook group. We are always sharing and disseminating useful information for you to take advantage of.