- Category: news
- Created: Thursday, 17 October 2013 14:01
- Published: Thursday, 17 October 2013 14:01
- Written by Administrator 3
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Dave Hall, The Windsor Star
Recognizing that aboriginal business owners are a growing sector across Canada despite having less access to funding and support networks, a new program launched locally earlier this month seeks to provide mentoring services and financial support for First Nations' start-ups.
Spearheaded by the WEtech Alliance and supported by the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, RBC and Union Gas, the eight-week Supporting Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship in Windsor and Essex (SAYEWE) program offers 20 young entrepreneurs seminars on business fundamentals, marketing, financing and social media.
At the end of the eight weeks, all 20 will be given a chance to pitch their business ideas to a judging panel and four will then be offered an opportunity to move into the Downtown Business Accelerator rent-free for six months to help them establish their new businesses.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to help me get started," said Maxine Foster, who plans to open a catering business with her brother Trevor. "It's the opportunity of a lifetime and I can't believe how much support I'm already getting.
"When you meet people who have started successful businesses, it helps you understand that anything's possible. By coming here, I no longer feel isolated."
Foster, who is already helping out with catering services at her church, recently spent almost six months in Mexico learning that country's cuisine from relatives.
She plans to combine her love of soul food and Mexican cuisine in her new business.
In addition to being the largest-growing population demographic in Canada, aboriginal business owners now total more than 37,000 across the country, a two-fold increase in the past 17 years.
"Tapping into that demographic is incredibly important because small business owners create job growth," said Irek Kusmierczyk, WEtech's director of robotics and youth programs.
"But they (aboriginals) often lack support networks and access to funding so this program provides young, dynamic, creative people with some real-world support and training."
Kirt Dedam, who recently moved to Windsor from New Brunswick to be closer to his wife Amanda's family, is planning to open Naguset Eldercare, a business which will provide respite services and recreational rehabilitation programs as well as interactive and social opportunities for seniors.
"I've already worked in the business sector and I have an understanding of how it works but this course was a great refresher and an opportunity to meet people who have the same goals and aspirations," said Dedam, who has a business degree from the University of New Brunswick.
"My background is Mic Mac and we were brought up to honour and respect our elders which is why I'm focusing on that group for my business.
"Once we're successful, we plan to give back to others who are seeking to start new businesses because I've received so much support already," said Dedam, whose wife Amanda has a nursing degree from UNB.
The program has also received support from the Can-Am Indian Friendship Centre, Can-Am Urban Native Homes, Turtle Island Aboriginal Education Centre at the University of Windsor, the Windsor-Essex Small Business Centre and the Law Technology and Entrepreneurship Clinic at the University of Windsor.
"A lot of these young entrepreneurs I remember as children coming through our organization with their families," said Elayne Isaacs, a tenant liaison officer with the Urban Homes group.
"It's nice to see them flourishing, seeking educational opportunity and seeking success through additional training.
"It was unfortunate that we had to turn some people away because we were limited to 20 but we plan to offer it again next year," said Isaacs of the interest in the program from the region's aboriginal community which now numbers about 6,000."
Seminars run until Nov. 13 and on Nov. 20, participants will stage a pitch session to judges.