Starting a business requires a good idea, passion, and commitment – and aspiring entrepreneurs tend to have all three of them under control. However, indigenous entrepreneurs can face barriers when it comes to other vital components such as business education and access to capital.
Enter Jonathon Araujo Redbird and Christina Tachtampa. The couple run Redbird Circle Inc., which works with post-secondary schools to offer entrepreneurship programs that incorporate traditional indigenous knowledge and values, and plans to help indigenous peoples in Canada achieve their business dreams.
Her youngest partner is the University of Toronto Mississauga. In collaboration with the ICUBE Campus Entrepreneurship Center, Redbird and Tachtampa are launching the Indigenous Entrepreneurship Program.
“We will look at entrepreneurship through a double lens, where we combine indigenous knowledge with Western education to create a new learning framework that empowers the next generation of indigenous entrepreneurs,” said Redbird, part of Ojibway and managing partner of Indigenous Venture-Builder Pontiac Group.
Redbird and Tachtampa partnered for the first time in 2019, taking the Master of Management in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Queen’s University. They identified major gaps in commercial training and support for emerging indigenous entrepreneurs and decided to address the problem for their capstone project. Their efforts and shared vision resulted in a business partnership advising Queen’s Business School.
The main problems that Redbird and Tachtampa said have marginalized indigenous entrepreneurs have emerged from the legacy of oppression, colonization, displacement and attempted extermination of First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada. Persistent intergenerational trauma, persistent discrimination, and persistent systemic racism continue to cause pain and harm, and create barriers to personal, professional, and community goals.
Another consequence of historical abuse is that indigenous communities did not have the same opportunities as others to build wealth over generations. As a result, the usual route of finding startup capital from family members or friends may not be available. Attracting outside investment is challenging even when the current venture capital model favors companies that have the potential to make big bucks quickly.
“The indigenous approach to business is typically not about scalability, IPO and short-term profit,” says Tachtampa, a social entrepreneur with a background in curriculum design, youth learning and community development. “They’re usually solo preneurs focused on serving their local communities.”
Redbird Circle’s solution is a business training framework based on a fundamental part of the Anishinaabe culture: the medicine wheel. The teachings of the medicine wheel, which has long been used in many indigenous communities as a teaching tool to impart cultural knowledge and values, emphasize respect for the interconnectedness of life. The 16-week pilot program begins with an emphasis on personal development, healing, reconciliation and community building. The program will then build on this foundation by focusing on creating projects or collaborative projects based on the identified interests of each participant.
The program runs from March 22nd to June 28th and focuses on human-centered design, market research, funding and pitching. The curriculum has been developed and is mainly provided by indigenous trainers and mentors. It will unfold through workshops, peer-to-peer and group coaching with elders and subject matter experts, opportunities to network with established indigenous entrepreneurs and opportunities to access finance. The program is open to indigenous students and alumni from all three U of T locations. The first recording offers space for 16 participants.
“Canada’s history of indigenous oppression presents unique challenges to their participation in entrepreneurship, and we hope this program will help level the playing field,” said Ignacio Mongrell, ICUBE Associate Director.
ICUBE Program Coordinator Kasey Dunn adds, “It’s about decolonizing the way we teach entrepreneurship by re-thinking what it means to run a successful business in a way that appeals to indigenous perspectives and Insights. “