Removing barriers is key to ensuring that Canada’s Indigenous entrepreneurs can truly SOAR
The flourishing scene of Indigenous entrepreneurship in Canada today is a testament to a rich heritage of innovation and resilience.
Yet, Indigenous entrepreneurs continue to face significant barriers: They experience discrimination and lack access to funds, resources and networks—not to mention, deep-seeded systemic issues—making it harder to build and grow their companies.
Building on over 30 years of Indigenous support
As Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs, we at BDC have been committed to supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs for over 30 years. We see the hurdles that stand in their way, and we’re taking steps to listen, learn and get better in how we support them.
Actions toward reconciliation and solidarity aren’t just empty words or promises. They’re vital to our mission. One of our main roles is to support underrepresented groups of business owners with targeted financing and advice—including Indigenous entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs and Black entrepreneurs.
One of those actions is BDC’s Indigenous Entrepreneur Loan, which offers financing to grow or scale Indigenous-owned businesses.
What distinguishes this unique loan is that BDC provides preferred pricing, demands no fees, and donates part of the interest paid on the financing to a registered charity of the entrepreneur’s choice. And we have proudly made nearly $1 million in donations since 2018.
Helping Indigenous entrepreneurs to SOAR
We also recently joined forces with SOAR, a grassroots initiative led by Indigenous entrepreneurship champion Sunshine Tenasco. SOAR unites Indigenous business owners to share, learn and scale companies grounded in Indigenous values.
SOAR and BDC are collaborating on the SOAR Accelerator, a program to support high-growth and high-impact Indigenous entrepreneurs. Co-sponsored by the online shopping platform Square, the accelerator offers executive-level training, meetings with major buyers and networking opportunities with the end goal to multiply their annual revenue by five times over the next 12 months.
We’re also developing an eight-week workshop for Indigenous entrepreneurs that will offer peer-to-peer connecting and cover such topics as financing a business, hiring and retaining employees, marketing, sales and networking. And, in September 2023, we will present the SOAR Digital Gathering, a virtual event bringing together more than 1,500 Indigenous entrepreneurs—to share, learn and connect in a safe and inclusive space.
Some other ways that BDC is working with Indigenous entrepreneurs include:
- Tripling our Indigenous clients—As part of our Client Diversity Program, we tripled our Indigenous clients since 2015, to 1,000.
- Indigenous Growth Fund—We co-created the $150-million Indigenous Growth Fund, in partnership with the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, to further support financing for Indigenous businesses. This is the largest Indigenous social impact fund in Canada.
- Raven Fund—We are the lead investor in Raven Fund II, led by Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, North America’s only Indigenous-led and owned venture capital intermediary.
- Events—We’ve sponsored many events highlighting and promoting Indigenous entrepreneurs, including Bears’ Lair, Pow Wow Pitch (the Indigenous entrepreneur pitch competition) and the Arctic Co-op Conference.
- Webinars—We work with partners to deliver free training. This includes the “Stronger Together” series with the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business, in which BDC experts share advice with Indigenous entrepreneurs on building networks and finding mentors.
Change from within
We recognize that all BDC employees need to have a mindset that reflects and fosters diversity, equity and inclusion.
This is why we require all employees to complete the first portion of the “4 Seasons of Reconciliation” training course, on the relationship between Canada, Indigenous peoples, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The feedback from employees was so positive, we now offer the full course for free to all Canadians (sign up here). (Completing the course provides a certificate of completion which can be added to CVs, LinkedIn, etc.)
We also hold regular listening circles and have an active Indigenous-focused Employee Resource Group that provides a safe space and vital input on how we can continually improve our policies and practices.
Listening and learning never stop for us—it's just how we do things. Our goal is to not just say the right words, but to live them. And by truly listening to Canada’s Indigenous peoples, we’re getting deeper insights into how we can find real, meaningful solutions to better help Indigenous entrepreneurs and their communities.