Technology focus for entrepreneur support at SIIT Centre for Innovation
- NC Raine | May 27, 2021
Desiree Hunter's student project, Si Kwan Apparel, may just develop into a full Indigenous owned and operated business, thanks in part to the Centre for Innovation.
Hunter is a student in the Adult Basic Education entrepreneurship program at the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT). As part of her program, Hunter and fellow classmates created a clothing label to sell SIIT branded material, as well as creating an alternative logo and merchandise kiosk. The name of the label, Si Kwan, is Cree for spring time.
“I've always had an interest in entrepreneurship as a career. Through the program, we were able to come up with our own business plan, and see what it's really like to start a business. The learning process has been very hands-on and thorough,” said Hunter.
The apparel is available at the SIIT Saskatoon campus, but Hunter hopes to one day grow the label into a full clothing line. The business knowledge is one of the many supports she's received from SIIT.
“When I first started here, I was really shy and kept to myself. I've had so much support at SIIT, to just be who I am and allow myself free expression. It's hard to put yourself out there, but this gives you the opportunity to get out of your shell and connect with people.”
Hunter is one of the first groups of students to access resources from SIIT's new initiative – the Centre for Innovation. The Centre for Innovation is a space at the Saskatoon campus dedicated to supporting and mentoring Indigenous entrepreneurs. It is a business hub where students can access knowledge from industry professionals, as well as get their hands on new technology to help spark business ideas.
“We know there's a shift going on within the Canadian landscape around innovation and technology, and in order for that to happen, Indigenous people need to be part of that space in a way that makes sense for them,” said Ryan Jimmy, SIIT Associate Director of Strategic Initiatives and Project Lead for the Centre of Innovation.
“They need to be at the forefront of coming up with solutions to some of their challenges in their communities. And spaces like the Centre for Innovation help them tackle some of those challenges.”
The Centre will revolve around the innovation that has been inherent in Indigenous culture. For example, Elders and Knowledge Keepers can teach students to make traditional clothing using modern sewing machines.
The initiative is the result of a three year, $3 million investment by Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), which helps Canadian companies develop clean technology business plans and deliverables.
As the initiative is still in development, Hunter and her Si Kwan Apparel are part of a pilot project testing some of the Centre for Innovation programs that will assist SIIT students.
While the Centre will serve student entrepreneurs in as wide a scope as possible, Jimmy said there is a drive around sustainable and development technology, which would mean supporting entrepreneurs in areas such as natural resources, economic development or water and food security.
The hope is that the Centre will engage around 80 students and teachers this year.
“It's marrying traditional knowledge with technology. Which isn't really new, but gives you a sense of where we want to go with this.”