New entrepreneurial training program celebrates first grads

Twenty seven First Nations students complete RISE program

Business is about to boom just three hours from Whistler as 27 graduates from the In-SHUCK-ch Nation get ready to launch their entrepreneurial careers.

It’s been a long four months for the students in the Roots of Indigenous Strength and Entrepreneurship (RISE) program. Last March the experimental on-location course paired business-minded locals with experienced mentors and practical training — including everything from marketing skills, to budgeting and driving.

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“We weren’t ready for what we discovered,” d’Artagnan Newton, a consultant who helped organize the program. “We had no idea that every single person in the class already had a concrete idea for what they wanted to do. It was fantastic. All we’ve done basically is taken them through that process of, is this business viable? Is there a demand? What are the cost structures?”

Just over four months later, those 27 students from the Douglas, Mount Currie, Skatin and Semahquam bands have the answers. They’re graduating this week with full business plans and practical skills to put them into action.

“The people from the community all have ideas. They all had ideas for the future, but because of the systems in place, the lack of support because and the remoteness of their location, it’s very difficult to access the right services,” said Newton.

Even with funding, a driver’s license and a reliable car, commuting to regular classes would be almost impossible for the communities accessible from the rough In-SHUCK-ch forest service road.

From Tipella, for example, it’s a two hour drive on the bumpy, unpaved road just to reach a paved highway. That’s when the weather on the road is cooperating.

That long commute can also make working regular jobs outside the community difficult, especially for individuals who aren’t able to work in resource industries like forestry or mining.

“The only way you get attendance would be to offer the training on reserve,” said Newton.

The program launched with that reality in mind last March, with funding from a Canada-BC Job Grant. The result is a unique “experiential, hands on” local business training program organized by the Indigenous Community for Leadership and Development.

It turns out the challenge of a remote location — there are no stores in the area and only one gas station — also presents opportunities.

There’s a local need for takeout food and a high volume of tourists flocking to the nearby hot springs. Not only are the tourists interested in food and culture, they often are in desperate need of a mechanic on the rough road.

One student, who previously worked in forestry but was unable to return to work after a work injury, is launching a trail mix line. A second student, entrepreneur Wynter Phillips, plans to serve traditional foods at hot springs, campgrounds and local events.

Others are partnering with nearby tourism businesses to offer unique hiking and canoe tours that incorporate traditional culture. A thrift store is in the works, while two mechanics are now ready to offer their services.

“People on reserve worried that people in the towns wouldn’t want the competition, but the opposite was true. Other businesses were supportive. A lot of networking took place,” said Newton.

Newton said the successful program, which had record-level attendance, could be duplicated in other communities. Working with local business ideas means the program can be self-sustaining and flexible to the needs of different areas. The training can be applied in different ways for different people.

“No one gave less than 100 per cent,” said Newton. “And it produces real results. People don’t just get a certificate, they graduate with a business.”

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