An Indigenous entrepreneur from Goulais River is hoping that her next business pitch wins her enough cash to take her tool and equipment rental shop to the next level.
Earlier this month Tiana Byrnes, founder of Twin Equipment and Tool Rentals Ltd., was selected as a semifinalist for Pow Wow Pitch, a competition for emerging Indigenous entrepreneurs in partnership with Royal Bank of Canada, Shopify and Facebook.
Byrnes, a registered member of Michipicoten First Nation, was selected as one 156 semifinalists out of 1,642 applications from across North America. She will go head to head with entrepreneurs from across the Ontario region and pitch to a panel of judges Sept. 22 for a chance to advance to the Pow Wow Pitch Finals in October.
“My hopes, as a motivated entrepreneur, is to diversify to a larger market by getting into the mines, purchasing more equipment for long-term rentals and hiring more First Nations [staff],” said Byrnes, speaking to SooToday Saturday. “This Pow Wow Pitch, I applied for it because they are a community of Indigenous entrepreneurs, and it’s to win $25,000 to help your business grow.”
Twin Equipment and Tool Rentals Ltd. began earlier this year as an offshoot of Twin Mechanical Contracting Limited, which is owned by her husband, Daniel.
The couple purchased a building at the bottom of Mile Hill in December 2020 to house Twin Mechanical after the contracting business took off. But they saw yet another business opportunity present itself.
“We had a lot of people asking to rent our equipment, because with the Twin Mechanical, we purchased a lot of equipment along the way. We had seven excavators and skid steers, lifts and all sorts of stuff,” Byrnes said.
Twin Equipment and Tool Rentals Ltd. has grown ever since, opening a Stihl dealership in March and adding a full-service shop to repair rental equipment. Twin Mechanical also operates out of the shop, with a team of welders and pipefitters that do contracted fabrication work for Algoma Steel Inc.
Now, Byrnes wants to diversify her heavy equipment rental business by doing business with the mining industry in Northern Ontario.
“We are really pushing and hoping to get up into the mines up north,” she said. “Because I’m status, because I belong to Michipicoten First Nation, I’m pushing to get equipment up into the mines for long-term rentals, so that’s our long-term goal.”
Byrnes was recently announced as a Pow Wow Pitch semifinalist for the Ontario region after completing a virtual pitch before a panel of five judges Aug. 26 – on her 35th birthday, no less.
“I was nervous, only because I think when you sit down with somebody, you kind of develop a relationship with somebody,” said Byrnes. “But on the computer, you have to have the pitch done within a minute, and there's a timer on the screen and it counts down the seconds. And then a bell rings, and then you’re like, oh my god, it’s over. Did I say everything properly?”
Byrnes says that she wants to grow the business for her four children.
“What I’ve noticed in the past year because of COVID, the housing market out here has increased drastically. People want to move out of the city into the country because of COVID,” she said. “I think that in the next 10 years, Goulais River will be booming.”
“I have four boys, so I’m just hoping to provide my children with a future. I want them to have a good business, already established – and we’re already heading in that direction because my husband and I are the only owners and we work very hard and we’re very motivated. That’s all we do; we just focus on getting our business developed so that our children, someday, will have a future.”
The Pow Wow Pitch semifinals can be viewed online Sept. 22 by submitting a registration form. The public can also vote for Byrnes to win the People’s Choice Prize of $500 and an express entry into the Grand Finale for the chance to win prizes ranging from $3,000 to $25,000.