Three area entrepreneurs semifinalists in Indigenous business investment competition

·3 min read

Three Indigenous entrepreneurs from across Southwestern Ontario have been selected as 2021 semifinalists in a national pitch competition.

Dayna Elijah, of Oneida Nation of the Thames First Nation, Tyler French, of Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, and Londoner Steven Vanloffeld, from Saugeen First Nation, are among 156 semifinalists chosen to pitch their business at Pow Wow Pitch this month. They were selected from more than 1,600 emerging Indigenous entrepreneurs who applied this year.

“We’re quite happy we applied," Elijah said of her business, Spirit Earth Holistics Inc., which sells handcrafted wellness, bath and body products.

“Our region (Ontario) gets announced on Sept. 22, so we don’t even know where we are in the standing at all until we watch with everyone else. It’s quite exciting, and it’s going to be a surprise for sure.”

An Indigenous-led grassroots community, Pow Wow Pitch is designed to support Indigenous entrepreneurs across North America.

Semifinalists submit a 60-second video pitching their business to judges for a chance to win the regional competition. Four finalists from each region will move on to the grand finale, for a chance to win as much as $25,000.

The prize money, Elijah said, would help expand her business and upgrade its marketing.

“We’ve mastered our level of selling to Indigenous business. Now, what we’re positioning is for us to go mainstream,” she said, adding the goal is to connect to larger distributors and chains.

Also competing this year is London business owner Steven Vanloffeld, of Saugeen First Nation. He'll pitch his company, eSupply Canada Ltd., an online distributor of office, janitorial and industrial supplies.

"I was excited (and) a little nervous," the former Saugeen First Nation councillor said of being named a semifinalist. "It's one thing to create a video. It's another thing to sit there and pitch in front of judges."

He said that business owners have one minute to pitch their business, where they come from, and what they plan to do with the prize money.

For Vanloffeld, that means growing his company to 300 Indigenous-owned franchises.

"What I've set out to create is a system whereby First Nations can have yet another vehicle to realize their full potential to capitalize on the business and development opportunities happening in their territory," he said.

One of the most important parts of his business, Vanloffeld said, was giving back.

"When businesses support us, it's not going to a shareholder dividend; it's not going to bottom line. A portion of that is going back into the community," he said, citing the eSupply Canada scholarship program, which receives a portion of all sales to support Indigenous post-secondary students.

The regional semifinals of Pow Wow Pitch, organized in partnership with RBC, Shopify and Facebook, will air online from Sept. 20-25.

Audience members can get involved, too. They’ll have a chance to vote for their favourite entrepreneur to win the people’s choice prize of $500 and a guaranteed spot in the final.

For more information about how to vote or register for the event, visit powwowpitch.org/pitch/.

cleon@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/CalviatLFPress

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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