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Sunshine Tenasco is the founder of Her Braids and the CEO of Pow Wow Pitch. She is Anishinabeg from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Quebec.Handout

Sunshine Tenasco is the founder of Her Braids and the CEO of Pow Wow Pitch. She is Anishinabeg from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Que.

A few years ago, I made a career transition that changed the course of my life. I had worked as an entrepreneur and for a large national organization, but I realized that to truly reach my full professional and personal potential, I needed the creative freedom and flexibility to forge my own path.

My first business – creating baby moccasins – landed me on CBC’s Dragon’s Den, securing investments from two of the Dragons. This was life-changing, fuelling my determination to help other entrepreneurs like me realize their dreams. And this is what led me to found Pow Wow Pitch, which empowers and elevates Indigenous entrepreneurs through mentorship, microstartup cash and exposure.

When I started Pow Wow Pitch, I knew the opportunities for Indigenous businesses were huge and expanding. According to RBC, the Indigenous economy is worth $30-billion today and is expected to grow to $100-billion by 2025. However, our path as Indigenous entrepreneurs is not easy. We face major obstacles at every step of our journey, from accessing business support to widespread discrimination.

I know this firsthand because before RBC stepped up to the plate, the banking institutions I approached wouldn’t have anything to do with me and I had to personally fundraise the $8,500 in prize money for the first Pow Wow Pitch. The fact that there are so many barriers to financial support means that lots of great ideas get left on the table, and the entire economy suffers as a result.

I now have dynamic, supportive partners, but we need to see a bigger shift within financial and business institutions so that Indigenous people can truly play a meaningful financial role in the economy, particularly as we recover from COVID-19. Here’s how we can start:

Deliver relevant training and support

We need to equip Indigenous entrepreneurs with specialized education, training and mentorship that recognizes the realities of doing business in urban, rural, Northern and isolated communities.

Build trust

Building back shattered trust takes time and effort. For training and support to be embraced, it must be culturally specific and built by Indigenous entrepreneurs, for Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Create funding that fits

Indigenous entrepreneurs face major hurdles in accessing traditional financing. We can do better. Let’s open up financing to part time or microbusinesses and offer funding avenues that reduce minimum equity and collateral requirements.

Targeted communication

Financial institutions must develop broad and active outreach strategies that let Indigenous entrepreneurs know they want to do business, clarifying what funding is available and how we access it.

Ensure internet access

Indigenous, rural and Northern communities face drastically lower internet access and speeds, often at much higher cost. Our communities need affordable, adequate and reliable internet to develop our economies, start businesses or search for opportunities. Without it, we can’t get ahead.

Provide affordable, reliable child care

Child care is one of the biggest barriers to entrepreneurship and employment for Indigenous women, particularly in rural and remote communities where daycare options are limited and expensive. Canada needs an affordable child-care plan that addresses these unique realities and needs.

Indigenous entrepreneurs are part of the solution to a stronger Canadian economy. We’ve been held back by racism and systemic barriers that have impeded our achievements, but we’ve persevered. As we look to a post-COVID-19 future, Indigenous entrepreneurs have an integral role to play in ensuring our collective prosperity, and the faster we all work together to break down the obstacles to our success, the better we all will be.

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