The Toronto Indigenous Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (ICIE) is expected to open in 2022 after delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic and an expansion of the floor space to 22,000 square feet. The center was originally scheduled to open by the end of 2020.
“The Indigenous Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is indigenous led and has a predominant Indigenous board.”
The ICIE is a Toronto City project designed with input from the local indigenous community. It will be located on an urban lot at 200 Dundas Street East. The center hopes to empower the local indigenous community to explore entrepreneurial endeavors by providing business programs, counseling services, mentoring support, shared co-workspace, community event space and connections to corporate networks.
Consultations on the ICIE began in 2018, and a preliminary ICIE Leadership Advisory Circle was established in 2019 to assist the city in developing the center.
Toronto Center councilor Kristyn Wong-Tam told BetaKit that ICIE was delayed for three reasons. As the city prioritized a pandemic response, some city-led projects have been postponed or delayed as emergency personnel were provided. COVID-19 delays aside, the addition of a third floor and 10,000 square feet of project space resulted in the architecture firm commissioned with ICIE failing to meet expected deadlines, including a delay in the bidding process.
Despite the delays, plans for ICIE have moved forward with a new goal set to open by 2022. Last year, a governance structure for the ICIE was set up in consultation with the local indigenous community, while the city also hired a project manager, Michele Baptiste, in September.
Baptiste joins the city after serving as indigenous relations manager for Express Scripts Canada and vice president of business development and training for Red Wolf Mediation and ADR Services.
“The ICIE is an important urban project under the auspices of the Indigenous Affairs Office with technical support from the Department of Economic Development and Culture. The staff has been actively involved in ICIE development with the local indigenous community since 2018,” Baptiste told BetaKit.
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Initial discussions about the prospect of an ICIE-style project began in 2011 when Wong-Tam was serving as councilor for what was then Parish 27. Originally as an indigenous cultural and business district in the eastern part of downtown Toronto in dialogue with indigenous entrepreneurs emphasized the need for a specific space for business management.
“I realized that we, number one, have a significant number of indigenous organizations that have settled downtown east of the area, and I also realized that with all of the social facilities that were on the station, they didn’t too many of them focus on business or entrepreneurship, ”said Wong-tam. “And as someone who is actually an entrepreneur, I thought we can help people by trying to find a way to either promote and / or start their own small business.”
The center is controlled by a non-profit board that is currently being established with the support of the city. The members are to be admitted to the board this year.
“The Indigenous Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is run by Indigenous people and has a predominant Indigenous Board of Directors,” said Wong-Tam. “And it is mandated to provide programs to support indigenous entrepreneurship and promote innovation. As long as the mandate is really clear, I think anyone can work to a good result. ”
In addition to running the center, Wong-Tam expressed the hope that the board of directors could offer microcredits or larger seed capital by developing a bank.
In 2019, FedDev Ontario, the federal agency tasked with promoting innovation and business growth in Southern Ontario, allocated up to $ 5 million to the ICIE project. According to Wong-Tam, the city has allocated an additional $ 5 million in operating costs, will furnish the space and plans to set rental terms with the ICIE’s eventual board of directors, which she said will be below market value.
As of 2019, the indigenous population in Toronto was estimated at 70,000, according to authorities serving the indigenous community in the city. Export Development Canada (EDC) estimates that there are more than 50,000 indigenous companies in the country. Composed of three groups, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, EDC states that indigenous companies contribute over $ 30 billion to Canada’s economy annually.
In a blog post on the EDC website, Todd Evans, EDC’s national director for indigenous exporters, noted that access to working capital and resources are two key challenges for indigenous businesses in Canada. Other challenges facing the country’s indigenous peoples include the tragic legacy of the residential school system and the Sixties Scoop, which the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls cultural genocide, institutional and systemic racism, and socio-economic factors, including access to technology.
The increasing representation of indigenous peoples in the technology sector is a declared focus of many organizations that have dealt with the ICIE. Minerva BC’s 2019 Face of Leadership tech report highlighted that the British Columbia-based tech companies surveyed had no Indigenous people on boards or leadership roles. A January 2019 report by the Brookfield Institute also found that only 1.2 percent of Canadian technicians were classified as native.
“We see many of our indigenous peoples doing great work in education and health.”
Jarret Leaman, a partner at the software and blockchain startup Akawe Technologies, who dealt with the ICIE, told BetaKit that indigenous communities across Canada are being forced to prioritize other pressing issues, including access to safe drinking water, over considerations like this Giving access to technology.
“We see many of our indigenous peoples doing great work on education and health,” said Leaman, who also founded the Center for Indigenous Innovation and Technology (CIIT) in 2017, which aims to combine technical and social innovation and improve social outcomes for indigenous peoples and communities.
“The technology hasn’t got there yet because there are other pressing issues that require immediate attention,” he said. “And so the condition is not all of our churches, but some of our churches.”
The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), an organization with 1,200 members and another group that dealt with the ICIE, published a report in 2019 which stated, among other things, that “the future of indigenous employment and economic development Community Depends on Co-Development Efforts by industry, government and indigenous communities to develop relevant and effective education and qualification programs for indigenous peoples in STEM disciplines. ”
The CCAB cites its mandate as contributing to building bridges between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, businesses and communities. In December, the company received $ 500,000 from Facebook Canada to set up a fund to support indigenous businesses, as well as access to skills training and a membership program.
Paul-Emile McNab, director of business development and strategic initiatives at CCAB, said the ICIE was essential to promoting opportunities for indigenous entrepreneurs in Toronto. Pointing out ways to network and grow businesses, he was confident when it comes to representing indigenous peoples in technology.
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“I’m really encouraged by the potential in technology,” said McNab. “I think in general the tech sector hasn’t been much into indigenous businesses in a long time, but I think that has now changed. I think it will take some time but I feel like there is a lot of optimism there. ”
However, Leaman still sees a widespread lack of understanding of indigenous relationships in the tech community. After starting his career in indigenous relations as a co-op student at Ontario Power Generation, Leaman said indigenous worker retention is equally important to an indigenous relations strategy and requires technical space, although a focus on attitudes is crucial Importance is for indigenous leadership.
“The question I have for the tech sector is how close are we to replicating programs in a different way that started in the same mindset as the dormitory school and study program,” Leaman said. “With regard to tech accelerators, the question will be: Who brings the collective awareness of indigenous relations into the technology sector to understand how we implement programs to increase indigenous representation that understand learning of past social issues and incorporate political mistakes that occurred during program development in the past? “
The ICIE is an opportunity for Wong-Tam to address some of the 94 calls made by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and learn from the indigenous community what entrepreneurship looks like in an indigenous context.
“The capitalist system we live in has had some really dire consequences where small numbers of people accumulate an incredible amount of wealth that they can never spend in their lifetime. And there are too many people left, ”said Wong-Tam. “This is very personal for me and why it has to be done.”
Images courtesy of Kristyn Wong-Tam