SIEF recognizes entrepreneurs
- NC Raine | December 31, 2021
Resourcefulness, perseverance, and a little goodwill for those around them - these were the resounding messages from two Indigenous-owned businesses recently distinguished with the Saskatchewan Indian Equity Foundation (SIEF) Entrepreneurial Spirit Award.
3R Innovating Imaging, based out of One Arrow First Nation, and Jake Sinclair, owner of two Anytime Fitness locations in Regina, were recognized for their ability to push onwards, support their communities, and even thrive, during the economic adversity of the pandemic.
“I said during my speech, I got into entrepreneurship to inspire other people in my community,” said Sinclair, a member of George Gordon First Nation.
“I wanted to be in a place where I could hire as many people as I could from my community. My hope is that me winning (the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award) inspires more people to get into entrepreneurship.”
Sinclair purchased the gyms in 2019 and was given very little time to get his feet under him before facing the huge challenges of forced closures, staff layoffs, and the constant uncertainty that COVID-19 brought.
“It was absolutely horrible. The day I had to let all my staff go was my worst day as an entrepreneur,” he said.
But Sinclair persevered, working 15- or 16-hour days to keep the gym open, while working with the staff to ensure they were able to access financial benefits. Sinclair took new, focused approaches to marketing his business, and was constantly in touch with health officials about operational possibilities. When they were allowed to fully re-open, Sinclair hired back all of the staff – about half of which are from his home First Nation of George Gordon, he said.
Since the pandemic, membership sales have increased by 20 percent. And every month, the gyms are giving back to the community. This past fall they hosted a golf tournament that raised $4,000 for the ALS Society and have also supported groups such as the Regina Treaty Indian Services, Canadian Blood Services, and Isabel Johnson Shelter.
“I think that's my main approach with the work we do here. Making sure everyone is feeling better, more confident, healthier, than when they came in. That they leave a better person. That goes for our work both with our staff and in the community,” said Sinclair.
For 3R Innovative Imaging, despite being a very different business, it was a similar 'sink or swim' attitude.
“It's been very, very tough,” said Joe Taylor, coordinator of 3R.
“Before the pandemic, we had no social media presence. We really didn't need it. We would go to trade shows, to pow-wows, to conferences, and sold out wherever we went. That's all we had to do to survive and succeed, and that all went away.”
3R is a youth-led business, formed in 2019 at One Arrow First Nation, in which a group of student’s re-purpose cabinet doors to create culturally significant artworks.
Since their inception, the group had little trouble selling their artworks. But selling, and even creating the art, became much more complicated.
“Before the pandemic, we had a group of 15-20 students on a continuous basis. Once the pandemic hit, with all the health risks and isolation, we tried to work safely with as many kids as we could, but it was no where near what we had,” said Taylor.
With the support of Chief and Council, and a core group of about 5 to 7 kids still creating art, 3R ventured into the world of retail. A buyer for the Wanuskewin gift shops fell in love with the products and story, said Taylor, so the students created a design specifically for them. The product was an immediate hit at Wanuskewin, and that one design turned into ten different products, being sold at all three of their retail locations.
In addition to Wanuskewin, 3R is now in retail locations at the Batoche Heritage site, Becky's Arts, Crafts and Creations in Fort Qu'Appelle, Dakota Spirit Beads and Supply in North Battleford, and Fireweed Artisan gift boxes.
The award they received for their resourcefulness has given the young artists an important boost in confidence, said Taylor.
“The award gave them a lot of self-pride. That comes with from doing something good and giving it your best. So, the recognition is great, but at the end of the day, hopefully what we're doing is opening doors for them in the future,” he said.
Two awards were handed out this year, but SIEF received considerably more nominations in previous years, said SIEF General Manager Terry Brodziak.
“When we started this award, we got maybe three nominations a year. Now we're up to ten or fifteen, which is great,” he said.
“I think its important that Indigenous business get the applause that they need, and all too often we don't sing our praises loud enough. So I think its basically a very well needed cog in the wheel to keep Indigenous business moving.”