New Beginnings: Jeannette Sinclair’s Journey into Entrepreneurshipwith Indig Design

Small Business Canada

According to the Canadian Government, only 17% of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses are owned by women. This can be accredited to the fact that women face barriers to accessing mentors, financing, and networks needed for business start-ups and growth. 

This March, in honour of International Women’s Day, CanadianSME Small Business Magazine sat down with Jeannette Sinclair, co-founder of Indig Design, Edmonton’s Indigenous Design Studio, to highlight her role as a female entrepreneur and discuss her journey. 

Jeannette highlights her past experiences and the values that she was raised with as integral to how they do business at Indig Design. By integrating those values emanating from her Indigenous culture with website design, Indig Design aims to foster authentic relationships and meaningful connections. Jeannette also discusses the challenges she has faced as a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry, which has strengthened her will to succeed. She also shared words of advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs with us. 

Could you describe your background and what inspired you to start Indig Design? Have any of your past experiences, whether personal or professional, shaped the way you approach and run your business today? 

Indig Design began three years ago, building upon the groundwork already laid by my partner, Ken. At the time, both of us were working from home, which provided an ideal setting for our collaboration; we’re grateful that we enjoy working together. 

After completing my Ph.D. in Indigenous Peoples Education in 2013 and working in academia for several years, I yearned for a new challenge—one that offered flexibility, freedom, creativity, and more personal satisfaction. Both my academic and career journeys have required perseverance, risk-taking, and focus– which have helped me to achieve my goals. Those experiences have strengthened my confidence to embrace opportunities beyond my initial imagination. 

Venturing into entrepreneurship with Indig Design would require drawing on those skill sets and more. This journey represents a conscious decision to explore new territories and realize potential impact through design and innovation.

Indig Design is more than a business venture—it embodies our shared vision to create, innovate, and make a meaningful difference. Today, I would say our past experiences in the academic and professional spheres continue to serve us as we strive to provide excellence and innovation by drawing inspiration from our diverse backgrounds and skill sets. 

As ‘Edmonton’s Indigenous Design Studio,’ how have you been able to incorporate your personal values with the values of Indig Design? 

Growing up with a strong Cree background has created a foundation that motivates me to pursue work that is meaningful, and that makes a difference. My Cree upbringing has, in my opinion, deeply influenced the values we embody in the best way we can. Since I was raised in a culture rich in respect, reciprocity, and values, I’ve woven these principles into our studio’s ethos. 

At Indig Design, we strive to have good work ethics and draw on our collective values, which are not necessarily limited to Indigenous culture but integral to our way of doing business. Our commitment to incorporating our values goes beyond words; it’s reflected in our client relationships and our work. 

How have your values shaped your leadership style working with your partner at Indig Design? 

For me, it’s recognizing that we both bring strengths to our business. We are stronger together. It’s acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers, either individually or even collectively as entrepreneurs. 

At Indig Design, we value our clients’ contributions, their vision and their goals. There is a mutual trust that together, we will collectively help to manifest an end result that they are satisfied with. Their success is also our success, and client satisfaction brings immense fulfillment to both Ken and me. 

I believe that the values we incorporate in our business guide our interactions and define our approach to how we work at Indig Design. 

As we celebrate International Women’s Day in March and reflect on the achievements and challenges faced by women worldwide, can you share a personal experience or insight from your entrepreneurial journey that you believe exemplifies the spirit of this day? 

I think, as women, we need to give ourselves more credit for things that we accomplish in our lives every day. Even if these accomplishments may not

necessarily be considered of ‘value’ in the business world or even by society’s definition of ‘success.’ 

For example, some women, like me and many other Indigenous women, who were or are single parents had to work outside the home while raising a child or children. In many cases, these women are the overall caregivers in their families. Being a mother and raising children in itself is an accomplishment that is often overlooked, but pursuing our goals to make a better life for our families and communities is almost always overshadowed. Still, it should be celebrated as I consider working moms as having two full-time jobs. 

We need to value ourselves more and believe that we matter and have a lot to contribute to our families and communities. I believe we need to lift ourselves up while also lifting each other up and trust that our voices need to be heard. The world needs our presence, contributions and influence to make a better life for us all. I truly believe that the 2024 theme for International Women’s Day of Investing in Women will undoubtedly accelerate progress for all. 

Do you have any words of advice or key takeaways for aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs? 

My advice for aspiring business leaders is not to take no for an answer. Believe in yourself, be patient, and keep persevering. Don’t allow yourself to give up. 

I also suggest saying ‘yes’ to opportunities, even if you don’t have a clear vision of what needs to be accomplished. When opportunity knocks, you answer the door with an open mind and see where it takes you. 

The last piece of advice I have to offer is that you don’t have to do everything yourself. If you’re not pursuing a business venture that exclusively requires your knowledge and skills, find a partner or develop partnerships where your skills complement each other. 

Don’t forget to enjoy the journey!

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