For six months starting last May, a group of eager First Nations entrepreneurs started their journey to becoming successful business owners involving everything from candy stores to roof-preserving spray technology.
They came together on the evening of Nov. 13 to celebrate their graduation as the fifth cohort of the Northwest Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs Program (NW-ACE).
“It went by really fast,” said grad Eric Venus.
“[We learned] so much that you think four months would be enough time, but it was really compressed. We had people coming in [to talk to us] specialized in a field [we were interested in]. They just did a wonderful job.”
The first four months of the intensive six-month schooling program where the NW-ACE students were together, they took in-class courses on their specializations. The latter two months, they were able to go out in the field and learn on-the-job training.
The classwork consists of interactive and practical learning components while in Prince Rupert and the business mentorship and coaching aspect comes as some of the students return to their home communities in the northwest in the later part of the year.
“We’re looking for people who have demonstrated a real stick-with-it-ness in their resumes. We’re also looking for people who have worn their teeth a little bit in building skills and experiences … If you’ve got a concept, you describe [it] and you’re also highlighting what your actual skills are. If there’s a really good alignment between your skills and experiences with the concept you’re proposing, that’s a really strong factor in you getting in the program,” said Cory Stephens, programs manager for NW-ACE, mid-way through this year’s program.
NW-ACE, a collaborative initiative made possible by TRICORP, the University of Victoria Gustavson School of Business and Service Canada among other organizations, has another cohort class set for the new year.
One of the most important things as the students move along in the program is the relationships they build not only with their business contacts, but with each other.
“[You’re] just grabbing 20 strangers and just bonding. You’re sharing a lot of fears and different cultures, but it’s just how we came together as a group and backed each other up,” said Venus, who is specializing in equipment operations.
North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice also took in the evening’s ceremonies.
“[The program] really mentors people … We’ve seen some successful businesses coming from the program and every year I listen to the presentation and I always learn something new,” she said.