When Futurpreneur launched its tailored programming to support budding Indigenous entrepreneurs, their vision was to streamline the startup process, address community-specific challenges and help break down barriers that prevent Indigenous youth from starting their own businesses.
Nearly three years since its establishment, this vision has been realized with more than 100 entrepreneurs enrolled in the Indigenous Entrepreneur Startup Program (IESP) across Canada. The program is curated and led by a team of ambitious entrepreneurial minded Indigenous professionals with lived experience and a genuine passion for empowering others to reach their full potential.
Under the direction of a Cree Saulteaux woman, Holly Atjecoutay, and supported by a group of business development managers – Jason McDonald, Melissa Gladue, and Noah Wilson – the team works closely with the entrepreneurs to help them navigate the startup journey.
Jason McDonald – a member of the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, where he also currently resides – spent most of his professional career assisting Indigenous people with disabilities, helping them secure employment or pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Today, he is a business development manager with IESP, where he continues to employ his skills working with budding entrepreneurs.
Commenting on what entrepreneurship means to him, Jason explained the entrepreneurial spirit has always been an integral part of Indigenous community life and that he’s grateful to Futurpreneur for continuing this tradition. “Our culture will show entrepreneurship is not new to Indigenous people,” Jason said, “I am proud to say my grandmother was Mary Adams from Akwesasne. She was a world-renowned basket-maker. Her baskets are sitting in the Smithsonian institute, the Vatican, in the New York State Governor’s office to name a few places.”
Jason is also the treasurer of the Hogansburg Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department. In his free time, he enjoys camping or watching motorsports. In 2019 and 2022, he volunteered for the Montreal Formula 1 Grand Prix as a firefighter.
Melissa Gladue is nêhiyaw-iskwêw (Cree woman) and a proud member of Saddle Lake Cree Nation in northern Alberta. Her mother is of Métis heritage, and her father is Plains Cree. Melissa was raised in a small rural farming community in northern Alberta and brought up with the traditional knowledge and lived experience of the local Cree people.
Outside of her volunteer activity, Melissa likes to spend a lot of time travelling in Alberta by exploring new lakes for kayaking, fishing, and finding new hiking trails. A fun fact, Melissa is also a plant mom to over 200 tropical house plants, a love she feels is inherently Indigenous.
To Melissa, Indigenous entrepreneurship is a mutually beneficial relationship between the community and the environment. “Understanding and respecting the importance of how both can affect each other and how being environmentally responsible is taking care of my community and being community orientated means taking care of the land we call home for my generation and the generations to come,” she said.
When joining Futurpreneur, Melissa was most excited to play a first-hand role in bridging the gap of economic resiliency within the Indigenous population, specifically among the youth. Reflecting on what changes she would like to see being made to empower the next generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs, she said the introduction of “economic education to youth.”
“Our youth are our future we need to target them at an early age and teach them about the importance of finances so that when they are ready to pursue entrepreneurial endeavours, they are not being discouraged about how tedious the process is and how difficult it can be to rebuild credit to meet lenders’ requirements for capital,” Melissa said.
“I believe in the importance of lived experience, especially when talking about my Indigenous Culture. I am the second generation removed from the residential school, but I was blessed to have still been raised in the traditional cultural ways of my people. Having qualifications and education is great, but nothing replaces lived experience. First-hand knowledge and experience are what will equip you and give you the necessary means to be successful in a role,” Melissa said.
She added, “It is through my lived experience I can relate and empathize with others, and it is through my career and educational experience that I can walk dual worlds working in tandem for the betterment of my people.”
Noah Wilson, a Cree man with French/Ukrainian heritage on his mother’s side of the family, is also a community member of Peguis First Nation which is the largest Treaty 1(1871) community located in the province of Manitoba.
Commenting on what continues to fuel their passion for supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs, Noah explained that “two of the biggest barriers facing Indigenous entrepreneurs across Turtle Island is access to capital and the lack of access to mentorship and peer groups that help in growing their business.”
Through his role at Futurpreneur, Noah is working directly to resolve these issues and equip entrepreneurs with the skills and tools they need to succeed.
He added, “The most exciting part of my role is being able to work solely with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Entrepreneurs and Potential Entrepreneurs to smash through these barriers with our financing and mentorship program by helping them build their business plans and connecting them with the larger Indigenous business development ecosystem. It is exciting to be able to help build an Indigenous business community with every Indigenous entrepreneur who goes through our program, as well as watch their business grow as they get off the ground and the countless accolades our Indigenous entrepreneurs receive as they inspire the next generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs.”
To learn more about IESP and register for upcoming webinars and events, visit our website: futurpreneur.ca/indigenous