A space for indigenous entrepreneurs to share and thrive

Before her jewelry business became an Indigenous business consulting firm, Ashley Clark was about to launch a line of sterling silver pieces.

Then he saw an ad for a photography workshop at the ADAAWE Indigenous Business Center in Ottawa. At the facility, she used a light box to take professional photographs of her jewelry. She discovered mentors, professional development workshops, and the resources he needed to improve his product photography.

Clark, who is from the Wahta Mohawks, is one of about 230 members of the business center. The centre, which occupies the first floor of a heritage house in downtown Ottawa, now offers entrepreneurs co-working space, opportunities for personal development and a place to build networks.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples still face systemic barriers to entrepreneurship after years of colonial policies that limited access to land, capital and resources.

“I’m obsessed with it,” Clark said. “[The centre] “It completely breaks down so many barriers, not only those faced by entrepreneurs, but also the problems that are compounded for indigenous entrepreneurs.”

The center was launched in October 2022 by the National Association of Aboriginal Capital Corporations (NACCA), a group that advocates for Indigenous financial institutions. Magnolia Perron, head of NACCA’s youth and women’s program, said the organization converted the ground floor of its building into the business center near the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Ottawa, in the National Capital Region, there really wasn’t a space for Indigenous businesses to come together,” Perron said. “We recognized that there was a gap in the area in terms of programs and services for Indigenous entrepreneurs.”

Since its opening, the center has offered free workshops on pricing goods and services, filing taxes as a business owner, and accounting. Hosts monthly social gatherings. In addition to a place to work, the facility houses a podcast production studio, a green screen and a light box. Members can access technology, such as iPads and a high-resolution camera, and multimedia production software, all for free.

The center also creates mentoring opportunities. Claudette Commanda, an elder from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, is the resident elder. Entrepreneur Sunshine Tenasco is the resident entrepreneur and Karla Briones is her resident expert. All three offer guidance to members.

Before her jewelry business became an Indigenous business consulting company, Ashley Clark was about to launch a line of sterling silver pieces. Then she saw an advertisement for a photography workshop at the ADAAWE Indigenous Business Centre.

“It’s not just like [a] “It’s not a team of experts, but rather a community team coming together to bring all the experience, mentorship and knowledge to support the Indigenous business community,” said Zachary Pashe, center coordinator.

Clark said the center is a great place to meet other Indigenous business owners. Members include Trisha Pitura, co-founder of blanket company Mini Tipi, and Tyson Wesley, co-owner of canned water company FN Clean Water.

“[The hub] “It provides opportunities for smaller companies to interact with larger companies, and we all have that shared experience of entrepreneurship and building indigenous businesses,” Clark said. “It makes the community stronger. It’s like learning from the elders.”

Now, Clark goes there a couple of times a month to work together, photograph their products and hold meetings.

Her jewelry business, Bougie Birch, now offers workshops and consultation services on Indigenous businesses and she is about to launch a new jewelry line in collaboration with an artist she met through the ADAAWE center. Clark also started a second business that connects Indigenous vendors with brick-and-mortar stores.

“Having these resources available has completely accelerated the development of my business. I am so lucky. It’s a good day to be indigenous,” she said. “This is reconciliation: getting Indigenous businesses to this ideal place where we should be.”

Isaac Phan Nay / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

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