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How a B-school is helping aboriginal startups

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    Business School News How a B-school is helping aboriginal startups JENNIFER LEWINGTON Special to The Globe and Mail Published Friday, May. 24 2013, 2:37 PM EDT
    Message 1 of 1 , May 25, 2013
      Business School News

      How a B-school is helping aboriginal startups

      Special to The Globe and Mail

      Published Friday, May. 24 2013, 2:37 PM EDT

      Last updated Friday, May. 24 2013, 2:37 PM EDT

      The Globe's biweekly business-school news roundup.

      A stunning list of economic development projects worth more than $60-billion are on the books in northwestern British Columbia, a region that covers about one-third of the province. The region is also home to more than 20 First Nation communities, potential allies with industry and government in the development that lies ahead.

      A new education and mentorship initiative aims to train potential aboriginal entrepreneurs to capitalize on development-related opportunities - including copper, silver and gold mines, pipelines and railways - slated for the resource-rich region.

      The Northwest Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs is a partnership between the University of Victoria's Peter B. Gustavson School of Business and First Nation-owned Tribal Resources Investment Corporation, which provides financial services to native business owners in the region.

      The program, with its first intake of 18 students this week, offers six weeks of classroom studies taught by Gustavson faculty, followed by 12 weeks of entrepreneurial mentorship from industry leaders, including native business owners. By design, the program is based in Prince Rupert, sparing students a costly trek to Victoria and time away from work and family. Tribal Resources pays the tuition costs.

      "Aboriginal leaders told us, 'We know development is happening. How do we best position our people to build their capacity long term?'" says Brent Mainprize, Gustavson's director of the program. "Employment is one opportunity to do that, but to have a sustainable business that plugs into projects is at an even higher level."

      Participants need at least three years of work experience, with some demonstrated skill or passion for a new business. Those in the first cohort have 10 to 15 years of work experience.

      "If you have a skill, let's do our very best to wrap a business around it," says Prof. Mainprize, who expects students will be ready to start a company after the program.

      One member of the first class is Noah Guno, of the Nisga'a First Nation, who lives in New Aiyansh. A logger who switched to multimedia projects several years ago, he was asked in 2012 to start the Nass Valley News for Nisga'a and other readers in the region.

      "I want so much for our next generation and I thought that the newspaper would be absolutely perfect," says Mr. Guno, 35, who imagines the newspaper as a vehicle to promote his community and foster a dialogue with government and industry.

      Through the program, he hopes to learn how to draft a business strategy to get the newspaper, still in its infancy, off the ground.

      "I need to develop some business skills to get access to money and to get the writers we need to make the paper more appealing," says Mr. Guno.

      There is already a waiting list for the next class this fall.

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