Nearly $1-million federal funding boosts Indigenous entrepreneurs on Six Nations, Mississaugas of the Credit

A not-for-profit organization that gives seed money to budding Indigenous entrepreneurs got a $924,000 boost from the federal government on Tuesday.

Ohsweken-based Two Rivers Community Development Centre will use the money from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) to offer skills training workshops and a youth entrepreneurship program, and host events promoting Indigenous businesses in Six Nations of the Grand River and Mississaugas of the Credit.

The various projects will “build a generation of Indigenous business leaders” while creating up to 60 jobs, said Two Rivers CEO David Vince.

The money is part of $5.4 million from FedDev Ontario earmarked for five Indigenous-led projects, including a new greenhouse producing fish and vegetables in Curve Lake First Nation and a model modular home that will allow Grand River Modular in Kitchener to scale up production on an affordable-housing solution.

Cambridge MP Bryan May announced the funding at the Two Rivers office on behalf of Filomena Tassi, the minister responsible for FedDev Ontario.

“The federal government is committed to economic reconciliation with Indigenous peoples,” May said, lauding the “indispensable” contribution of First Nations entrepreneurs and businesses to Canada’s economy.

Over the past three decades, Two Rivers has approved almost 700 loans worth over $42 million to Indigenous businesses across southern Ontario.

The organization routinely gives smaller loans to startups but can also arrange for direct loans of up to $500,000 and leverage another $750,000 in secondary financing for business expansion and capital projects.

Loan recipients are mainly in the hospitality, personal services and business services sectors, with recent growth seen in professional services and technology.

Along with providing “access to capital,” Two Rivers helps with management training, accounting, business plans and strategic advice, Vince told The Spectator.

The non-profit publishes an annual directory listing more than 320 businesses in Six Nations and Mississaugas of the Credit, while a “digital tool box” harnessing artificial intelligence is available online to help entrepreneurs keep up with blog posts, social media and other digital marketing.

As an example of how a well-timed business loan can make a major difference, Vince said Two Rivers paid for a feasibility study that led to the creation of Aecon-Six Nations (A6N), a joint venture between the Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation and construction company Aecon Group Inc. A6N does utility-related site work within the Haldimand Tract, including for the Oneida Energy Storage Project, a 250-megawatt lithium-ion battery storage facility coming to Haldimand.

Chief Claire Sault, newly elected as head of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, praised the partnership between Two Rivers and EcDev Ontario.

“I know we have a lot of interested community members that want to get their business up and off the ground. They have great ideas, but they don’t know where to start,” Sault told reporters.

“It’s important to teach them the fundamentals of a startup and open their eyes to … the different elements of marketing their product and bringing it all to fruition.”

Chief Sherry-Lyn Hill of Six Nations said Two Rivers was supportive of her as a business owner.

“Their door is always open. They’re there to help you with marketing, photocopying, anything you could think of,” Hill said.

“So I think this is a great opportunity for community members to take that leap of faith and open their own small business.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator