A 12-week entrepreneurship program for Aboriginal youth in Timmins has given them the tools and confidence to contemplate starting their own businesses.
Run by the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund (NADF) and funded and supported by the federal government and other public and private partners, the program was geared to urban Aboriginals between the ages of 18 to 29. The last session was held in December of last year and about 25 people were enrolled in the program.
“If we had room and others showed an interest, they weren't turned away,” said Kimberley Bird, senior business development advisor with NADF. “The way the program was set up was to eliminate barriers for the participants. We offered a meal, child-minding services and mileage for those travelling from neighbouring communities.”
The program involved a series of workshops covering different subjects held once a week from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The first few sessions pertained to identifying what an entrepreneur was and letting the participants see if they had the skills and mindset to run their own business. Other subjects ranged from marketing to procurement.
“We hired facilitators from the community to run the workshops so it brought a good dynamic to the program and a different point of view,” Bird said. “We also had mentors, who they could make appointments with, to get some feedback or obtain more information,” she said. “Some of the participants are in business and they want to take the next step while others are planning to go ahead and start a business.”
The program was sparked by a study done a few years ago on the number of First Nations businesses in Timmins and Sudbury. Despite having a higher Aboriginal population, Timmins had fewer established businesses owned and operated by Aboriginals.
“We don't know why but perhaps it could be because Sudbury has more people and a bigger market,” Bird said.
Michelle David has plans to launch an online business and accompanying showroom, and she said the program was very helpful.
“I enjoyed meeting and listening to the facilitators and I learned a lot from them,” she said.
Although she is keeping her plans to herself until the enterprise has launched, she has been busy tweaking her business plan and has bought a domain name.
“The seed to be an entrepreneur has been planted for awhile,” she said. “But you tend to fall in love with every business idea you have, but then reality sets in. You need to have a niche or something that is in demand.”
She is eager to start her business but wants it “done right and everything perfect.”
“It was great to get the help offered through the program and it is like my baby right now. I am getting close to having the final draft of my business plan done and registering the business.
“I am excited but I realize it is not a game and I will be dealing with real money and interest rates, so there is also a lot of nervousness.”
David is also completing a bachelor's degree in psychology that she has been doing online over the years.
The last session of the program entailed participants making a presentation to the other students about their business ideas.
“What was most rewarding for me was seeing that other people got excited about my plans,” she said. “I am often my own worst critic.”
Bird hopes the program can be offered again some time in the future.
“We didn't know what to expect when we first organized it but we are happy with the response,” she said. “We have given them some tools to show them what to expect.”