Summer camp provides opportunity for young Indigenous entrepreneurs

Fuelled by a shared passion for youth empowerment, two Peter B. Gustavson School of Business alums have created a camp to foster and develop Indigenous entrepreneurship.

Jordyn Hrenyk and Kim Cope have teamed up to create what Hrenyk calls “the first Indigenous-focused youth entrepreneurship summer camp in the [Greater Victoria] area.”

Cope has been working in a similar capacity over the past couple of years, having already developed Startup Skool to fill in the gaps of youth business education. She creates business education curricula for teachers around Canada to implement in their own classrooms, as well as summer camps throughout B.C. At Startup Skool camps, including the pilot Indigenous Entrepreneurship Camp, youth learn about technology, design, design thinking, coding, and most importantly, says Hrenyk, entrepreneurship.

“Kids have ideas and they aren’t hampered by what’s realistic or what they ‘should’ be doing,” says Hrenyk. “They have ideas and they want to be in control of them.”

Furthermore, she says, “there are real, fully-fledged businesses that have come out of these camps . . . eight to 11-year-olds from this program have gone on to start their own businesses that are successful . . . They’re making money and they’re supporting charities or causes that they care about.”

“Whether or not they’re noticing it, Indigenous entrepreneurs tend to bake social consciousness into their business — not just environmental sustainability or financial sustainability.”

Indigenous youth are one of the youngest and fastest growing segments of the Canadian population, and as such, they boast tremendous possibility. Yet they often face disparity in opportunities available to them when compared to non-Indigenous youth, leaving much of their potential untapped. Hrenyk and Cope want to change that.

“There are differences between Indigenous entrepreneurship and mainstream entrepreneurship,” says Hrenyk. “Whether or not they’re noticing it, Indigenous entrepreneurs tend to bake social consciousness into their business — not just environmental sustainability or financial sustainability, but often . . . they use their business to do good in the community.”

“You’re building a business to support yourself, your family, and your community,” she adds.

“While the focus of the course is still absolutely entrepreneurial, there is a cultural element that most programs won’t have,” says Hrenyk. “That’s why we wanted to do it.”

As with Startup Skool’s other ‘Innovation’ programs, participants will learn about social enterprise, socially conscious businesses and environmentalism, as well as design thinking.

“They go through business concept design, [and then] they pitch at the end [Dragon’s Den-style],” Hrenyk says. “It’s a week-long camp where you get a rundown of what starting and owning a business looks like.”

“It’s important for Indigenous youth to see Indigenous role models,” says Hrenyk.

Unlike other Startup camps, however, all guest speakers at the Indigenous Entrepreneurship Camp will be successful Indigenous entrepreneurs from around the province. And while the camp is focused on Indigenous entrepreneurship, Hrenyk stresses that all youth are welcome.

“It’s important for Indigenous youth to see Indigenous role models,” says Hrenyk. “It’s important for them to see entrepreneurs who are really successful and see them be successful without compromising their culture, and using their culture to be successful.

“But it’s also important for non-Indigenous youth to see successful Indigenous entrepreneurs,” she adds. This actively combats any racist, negative mindsets that youth may have about Indigenous communities, Hrenyk explains, as well as the perception of Indigenous issues as purely historical.

“I think it’s really important for them to see modern, successful Indigenous role models and see that we break the mold of those two narratives that they’ve probably heard,” she says.

In its first year, the Startup Skool Indigenous Entrepreneurship Camp will be open to 20 youth, ages eight to 11. The camp offers a 6:1 student to instructor ratio, and runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, with early drop-off and late pick-up available at no charge.

The registration fee is $400 per participant, which includes field trips, snacks, t-shirts, headshots, online portfolios, a certificate of participation, as well as properly trained, professional instructors.

The camp currently has around 10 scholarships secured, some full and some partial, though they hope to support as many participants as possible. Those interested can support the camp in a myriad of ways, including providing sponsorship, snacks, transport, and further scholarship funding.

Ultimately, Hrenyk hopes to see the Indigenous Entrepreneurship Camp continuing to run after this summer, and that participants will use what they learn at the Startup Skool to share their skills and encourage others.

“I hope . . . students learn that you don’t have to give up your culture to be a financial success,” Hrenyk says. “You don’t have to give up your culture to be a business owner or to go to school.”

The Indigenous Entrepreneurship Camp will run from July 4–8 at the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business (BEC and DSB). Those interested in attending can register online at startupskool.com

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