An Indigenous entrepreneur in London is looking to take his business to the next level, competing for a $25,000 prize in the final round of a national pitch competition.
Steven Vanloffeld, a London resident from Saugeen First Nation, is one of 29 entrepreneurs from across Turtle Island (North America) gearing up to pitch their business in the final round of Pow Wow Pitch on Oct. 20.
Vanloffeld, who owns eSupply Canada Ltd., an office, janitorial and industrial supplies company, was named one of four Ontario finalists after pitching his business in the regional semifinals on Sept. 22.
"Honestly, I'm a little shocked, but I was hopeful," Vanloffeld said of moving on to the final. "I practised that pitch within the allotted time. Each contestant was given a minute, but I didn't want to go over."
Vanloffeld was selected as a semifinalist from more than 1,600 Indigenous entrepreneurs in Canada and the United States, including three others in Southwestern Ontario, who applied this year.
At the Pow Wow Pitch Finale, he'll have two minutes to pitch and convince the judges why he should win.
"It's going to be fierce," Vanloffeld said of the competition. "I mean, you've got the top 20, all strong pitches (and) all strong businesses. I think it will come down to: Are you able to deliver on what you say that you're going to do?" with the prize money, he said.
On top of the $25,000 prize, a $10,000 prize for second place and $5,000 for third place are also up for grabs.
As Vanloffeld told The Free Press in early September, winning the first place prize would allow eSupply Canada to expand to 300 Indigenous-owned franchises across Canada.
"There's nothing that businesses don't need in order to operate that we don't supply," Vanloffeld said. "What sets us apart from the competition is we run a drop ship model, which means we source our supplies directly from manufacturers and national wholesalers.
"We don't have warehouses, which allows us to pass those savings on to our customers, thereby allowing us to be very competitive."
The prize money would also help him strengthen what he calls "the giveback component" of his business.
One per cent of its sales go directly to the eSupply Canada Future Leaders Scholarship Program, which supports Indigenous post-secondary students in the fields of business, economics, law and the trades.
Four full-time staff and an intern run eSupply Canada, but Vanloffeld said he plans to grow his company "exponentially" in the next 18 months.
Until recently, there weren't many opportunities for emerging Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses to grow, he added.
That's why Sunshine Tenasco, of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in western Quebec, decided to start Pow Wow Pitch seven years ago.
"Especially if you're living in First Nations communities, access to capital is not the same as if you're Canadian," Tenasco said about the importance of giving Indigenous entrepreneurs opportunities to grow.
"Being able to showcase Indigenous entrepreneurs in this way, we're creating a place where you can come, show up and buy from everybody who participates in the pitch . . . Our whole goal is just to elevate, put the spotlight on and say, 'you're awesome, keep going.' "
What: Pow Wow Pitch, a national pitch competition for Indigenous entrepreneurs
When: Finale to air on Oct. 20 at 6 p.m.
Where: Register for free at powwowpitch.org/pitch/
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press