It may be a little early for the Olympic spirit, but dozens of aspiring young entrepreneurs from across Canada vied for gold recently in a national Aboriginal youth business plan competition.
The E-Spirit program was developed by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and is supported by Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
With the small-business sector creating the most new jobs in Canada, the competition is designed to expose Aboriginal youth to the potential of entrepreneurship and the Internet, says Jim Richardson, BDC's national director for Aboriginal banking.
"The whole thing is to try to give them a realistic scenario of what it is like to be a business person," says Richardson. "In the meantime, if they don't go into business (for themselves), they acquire employment skills."
|Photo courtesy of Janet Kimber/BDC|
|John Woodhouse, left, and Amanda Anderson along with Angela Franklin (not present) of Winnipeg claimed silver. |
In the next 10 years, more than 300,000 new jobs will be required to meet the demand from Aboriginals entering the workforce, notes Richardson.
In the latest edition of the E-Spirit contest, held this year in Halifax, a twosome from Grand Forks Secondary School in Grand Forks, B.C., outdistanced the 76 teams from 40 schools across Canada, snagging the top $2,500 prize at the competition final.
Kate Russell and Allanah Kenoras-Schwandt's concept, called Ding Dong Delicious, would see the creation of an eco-friendly, web-based delivery service for fresh organic produce.
Winnipeg students Amanda Anderson, Angela Franklin and John Woodhouse of R.B. Russell Vocational High School placed second, and took silver and $1,500 for their business proposal, The North End Youth Program.
Their goal is to provide a safe learning environment for local Aboriginal youth by helping them achieve their potential through after-school sport and other educational activities.
A team from Quebec won bronze, and $750. It went to École Manikanetish from Sept-Îles for an Innu culture education program business plan.
Over a 16-week period, the student teams and their teachers worked with Aboriginal mentors and technical advisers to turn their business concept into an online business plan.
They then headed to the three-day final to make formal presentations to a panel of judges while presenting their product or service at a tradeshow.
Awards were presented at a gala ceremony, and more than 200 Aboriginal youth attended this year's event.
One team that won big in Halifax - even though it didn't place in the top three - were brothers James and Nick Callaghan, in Grades 12 and 11, respectively, at St. Charles College in Sudbury, Ont.
Their concept, the Ground Hook safety and anchoring system, is designed to assist homeowners and contractors with the safe removal of trees and stumps by doing the least amount of environmental damage.
Their project received six honours - first place for most original product or service; first for best team spirit; another first for best utilization of technology (which includes their mastery of programs such as PowerPoint and videos to promote the product); a second for most innovative marketing concept; another second for most original business name (Ground Hook); and a fourth-place finish for their written business plan.
The Callaghans have even attracted enough interest from some businesses to take the Ground Hook into production, says their father Steve - the school's chaplain - who acted as their project supervisor.
"Neither of my sons had taken business courses, but all the attention and all the interest that was shown to them, I think they are interested to see how far they can go," says Steve Callaghan.
However, there was one other aspect that was perhaps even more important, says Nick.
"I learned a lot about Aboriginal culture," he says. "It was through the other people's presentations as they involved Aboriginal culture in their businesses."
Winning the gold was an unexpected outcome for Russell, who is in Grade 12 and plans to pursue a bachelor of science degree, and Kenoras-Schwandt, who is in Grade 11 and wants to become a high-school teacher.
But they say the benefits went far beyond that and the friendship they established over the competition period.
"We learned a lot," says Kenoras-Schwandt, adding that the experience helped her to build leadership and communication skills.
"And if I was to go and start a business it would be a lot easier after I graduate because now I know the process and the steps."
Russell plans to take the knowledge she's learned from participating in two years of E-Spirit competition to become an E-Spirit mentor next year.
"It's not an easy project to undergo. It takes a lot of dedication and a lot of team effort," says Russell.
Both young women gave credit to their teacher and E-Spirit coach Anna Groeneveld for their success.
Of the 76 teams taking part, 42 were from B.C., 12 were from Manitoba, five were from Ontario and one from Alberta.
(Laura Severs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)