A successful Aboriginal entrepreneurs program offered through the University of Victoria is receiving a $1-million donation from BMO Financial Group.
The Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs (ACE) program has delivered entrepreneurial training to 26 First Nations communities in B.C. and has, so far, been focused in B.C.’s northwest and the Okanagan.
For the first time, ACE training is being offered on Vancouver Island starting this month. It is aimed at Indigenous artists throughout the Island who are keen to start or grow their endeavours.
Lianna Spence of Lax Kw’alaams, formerly known as Port Simpson, in B.C.’s northwest, is one of the 275 students who have completed the program. She attended the funding announcement at UVic Tuesday to talk about what the training meant to her. “I didn’t know anything about marketing, networking or writing a business plan but everything that I learned in this course has changed my life drastically.”
A lawyer taught Spence about the importance of contracts, and she learned about the need to keep her life in balance.
The ACE program not only helped in Spence’s career, but as an Indigenous leader in her community. “Every new professor who came in — my brain was like a sponge,” she said.
Spence, who has a 14-year-old daughter, carves, makes jewelry and recently became a tattoo artist in Prince Rupert, with a three-week waiting list. She raised the first totem pole in her village in more than 100 years and hosted her first feast, keeping in mind lessons from her training.
The 20-week ACE program was developed in 2013 in partnership with the Tribal Resources Investment Corp. and UVic’s Gustavson School of Business.
Brent Mainprize, a UVic business professor, said as the program becomes stronger, students are becoming more successful. So far, 72 businesses have been started and more than 30 graduates have moved on to more education. Another 128 are completing business plans.
Initiatives have involved artists, eco-tourism, taxis, trades businesses, coffee shops and music lessons.
Miles Richardson, executive director for the National Consortium for Indigenous Economic Development at UVic, said the donation underlines the notion of bringing together Indigenous governments, federal and provincial governments and industry to support people like Spence.
Richardson was at an ACE graduation in Prince Rupert attended by young people who needed skills and support. Program leaders worked with students, “helping them problem-solve, to get through the week, to get through the month, get through the program.”
In some communities, 60 to 70 per cent of employment relates to art, Richardson said.
“Learning business skills is going to be transformational. You don’t always have to bring it to a shop in Vancouver and have them double up the overhead. Maybe you can turn that money over in our communities, which is the beginning of having our own economy.”