New reality show aims to 'feed the spirit' of Indigenous business

Mallory Yawnghwe is a Cree entrepreneur based in Edmonton who appeared on episode one of the Bears' Lair.  (Jenna Kiernan/APTN - image credit)
Mallory Yawnghwe is a Cree entrepreneur based in Edmonton who appeared on episode one of the Bears' Lair. (Jenna Kiernan/APTN - image credit)

Even though she didn't win, Edmonton-based entrepreneur Mallory Yawnghwe said her time on the APTN reality show Bears' Lair was a life-changing experience.

"It's pretty incredible to see space was made for us as Indigenous entrepreneurs to really showcase what we're doing for our community," Yawnghwe said in an interview with CBC's Radio Active.

The show began airing last Sunday. Each episode features three different businesses pitching their product or service to the "bears" or five different established Indigenous professionals for a chance to win funding from a pool of $180,000 and mentorship opportunities from the bears.

"I think something like this was long overdue," Yawnghwe said.

The show was the brainchild of advocate and entrepreneur Geena Jackson from the Frog Clan of the shíshálh Nation in B.C.

Marissa Baecker/APTN
Marissa Baecker/APTN

The show's website describes wanting to be a platform "to feed the spirit of Indigenous business across the nation."

LISTEN | Indigenous entrepreneurs Mallory Yawnghwe and Matt Lapointe talk to CBC's Radio Active about their experience being on an Indigenous-led business reality TV show. 

Yawnghwe, a member of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, runs a subscription box service Indigenous Box Inc. It aims to help people discover other Indigenous businesses by offering a sample of various products for subscribers.

Yawnghwe and two other businesses were on the show's first episode.

The winner was Métis-business owner Matt Lapointe, who runs Alberta K9 out of Gull Lake, Alta. 40 kilometres north of Red Deer. Lapointe used his experience as a retired officer with the RCMP and Blood Tribe Police Service to start a program to breed, raise and train canines for detection services.

The team was able to take home $10,000 and say since the episode aired, they've already received more calls from people looking to use their services.

"I saw the need for our detection canines in communities to help them stop our people from dying,"  Lapointe said about trying to empower Indigenous communities to prevent drug poisoning deaths through drug detection.

Shoot the Breeze/APTN
Shoot the Breeze/APTN

Lapointe also said he wouldn't believe it if someone told a younger version of himself that he would be working all over the world to train sniffer dogs.

But now he hopes the show becomes a catalyst for others to aspire to their dreams.

"If the show can just inspire one new Indigenous entrepreneur then it was absolutely worth it for all of us," Lapointe said.

Métis entrepreneur Jason Lizotte came onto the show to grow awareness of his product.

Lizotte is a welder by trade and decided to create a portable, automated, solar-powered hand-wash station after noticing it was tough to find a place to wash his hands after fuelling up his truck during work.

The Grande Prairie entrepreneur saw that need extended beyond his situation. He created the hand-wash station to help people stay hygienic during the pandemic.

"It's very children friendly, disability friendly, with the pandemic ... nobody wants to touch anything anymore," Lizotte said during an interview with CBC's Edmonton AM.

LISTEN | Métis entrepreneur talks to CBC's Edmonton AM about why it was important to be on Bears' Lair

The product has been in development since 2019 when Lizotte started tinkering with creating the hand-wash station in his garage.

The stations have been sold to a variety of communities, tourism sites, and trade shows. It's also been used during festivals.

Lizotte said one of the best parts of being on the show was the community support.

Marissa Baecker/APTN
Marissa Baecker/APTN

"It's very uplifting for the Indigenous entrepreneurs out there to be showcased on a TV show like this."

Lizotte said he is excited for people across Canada to discover Indigenous talent. He is set to appear on an episode to air on October 2nd.

Bears' Lair has been greenlit for a second season.