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Ready-to-market ideas get helping hand

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By Shari Narine Sage Contributing Editor REGINA







It all begins with “one good idea.”

CBC Saskatchewan producer Merelda Fiddler is referring to the Boom Box, but she could just as easily be talking about the three winning entries for CBC’s inaugural competition for Aboriginal entrepreneurs.

“Everything starts with one good idea and it’s what you do with that idea that affects change,” said Fiddler.
Fiddler had been working on a series of stories about Aboriginal employment, when the idea of Boom Box came up. The title of the contest, she noted, is a nod to Saskatchewan’s booming economy. Fiddler approached Dragon’s Den veteran Brett Wilson to team up on the project.

“I often say if I can only plant a few seeds it’s been a worthwhile day. I think we planted more than a few seeds in the Aboriginal community,” said Wilson.

One such seed was planted in the form of Jacob Pratt, a third year business student at the First Nations University. Pratt took first place with his pitch for Wambi Dance, which has been in operation for about two months. Wambi Dance serves two purposes: it is a talent agency registering a wide variety of Aboriginal artists and gets them work and it is a central agency that event planners and organizations can turn to for Aboriginal artists.

“We’re growing quickly and the possibilities of where we can go seem to be getting bigger and bigger and something like this is needed because nobody else is providing these services here in Saskatchewan,” said Pratt in his video pitch.

Along with winning $2,500, Pratt will receive three months of mentorship. While the money will help, Pratt said the mentorship is “really, really worth more than that.”

Wilson, who put up $5,000 in prize money, with second place finisher taking $1,500 and third place $1,000, agrees with Pratt’s assessment.

“Mentorship is so, so, so important in terms of keeping … entrepreneurs focused,” said Wilson.

Three months of mentorship was also supplied to Jennifer Dubois and Heather Abbey, who placed second and third, respectively.

Dubois, who is graduating this year from the School of Business at FNUniv, is working part time from home as a hairdresser. Her plan is to “open a salon spa that provides a First Nations experience,” she said in her video pitch. Along with serving other clients, Dubois wants to cater to First Nations traditions as well as invest in the First Nations community. She plans to travel to reserves to cut hair, as well as offer haircutting services to low income families. Purchasing hair product from Aboriginal companies is also a target as is displaying arts and crafts by Aboriginal artisans.

Dubois said she wants to take her time working on her business plan and get it right.

“The mentor will help me answer questions I don’t know myself. That’s why it’s always good to have a professional who has done it before work with you,” said Dubois.

Abbey, a work-from-home mom, who referred to herself as a “mompreneur” on her video pitch, wants to establish Shop Cairo.ca, a website that will allow Aboriginal artists to sell their wares from home and get a decent price. She said after talking to artisans, she found that many were stymied by lack of resources and unable to get to powwows or regional fairs in order to sell their work. And if they made it out, many were selling at slashed rates on the last day.

With Shop Cairo.ca, “anyone can sell anytime, from anywhere,” said Abbey. All they need is a digital camera, computer, Internet connection, and access to the postal system.

Nearly 40 pitches were posted on the Boom Box website, which received over 100,000 hits. Six pitches moved on for final consideration. Four finalists were selected by a committee that consisted of CBC representatives and business community leaders, one selection was made through audience voting, and the last selection by Wilson.

The winners were chosen by a panel of four consisting of Wilson, Metis consultant John Lagimodiere, Stephanie Yong from the Wilson Centre for Entrepreneurial Excellence at the University of Saskatchewan, and FNUniv president Doyle Anderson.

“They were all ready to go to market, subject to a little more coaching and money,” said Wilson of the winners.
Fiddler said CBC would consider running the competition again. Wilson said he would be involved a second time around “if we can build on the success.” He noted that 40 pitches and over 100,000 hits for a first time event were strong indications of interest.

Said Wilson of the winners, “I would like to see the three that are chosen do well, that would be a great message.”

Photo caption: Making their pitches and selected for final consideration in the Boom Box were (from left) Dean Villeneuve, Jennifer Dubois, Janine Windolph, Moe Mathieu, Jacob Pratt, and Annie Charles. Windolph and Charles teamed up on their business proposal.