Across the country, indigenous communities are developing innovative products, businesses and initiatives that create jobs, improve quality of life and generate economic prosperity. 

In 2017, it was reported that the indigenous youth demographic was growing four times faster than the rest of the population, indicating that our indigenous communities play an important role in the country’s future workforce and innovation economy. 

That sentiment was echoed when Bernd Christmas, CEO of Gitpo Storms Corporation, spoke at this year’s Innovate Atlantic Conference. 

“If you’re going to do business in Canada, whether you believe it or not, you are doing business on indigenous lands,” Christmas said. 

Indigenous leaders and entrepreneurs are also an excellent source of inspiration for startup founders looking to take their company to the next level. During his talk, Christmas shared some of the parallels between startups and indigenous innovators and imparted lessons for startups looking to grow. 

Here are some key takeaways from Christmas’ presentation that startup founders can use to grow their companies: 

Get your books in order 

Your company is only as strong as its financial systems. The reality for many startups is that spending money is critical to growth. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be processes in place to track and control spending so that you, as a founder know exactly how much money your company has available at all times. 

“ … You have to know on a day-to-day basis, even on a minute-to-minute basis, … how much money [you] have in the bank account, and then be able to be very flexible and move forward with whatever initiative you are doing,” said Christmas.

As a founder, having deep insight into your startup’s cashflow will help you make better decisions in less time, which will help you progress your business faster. 

Prepare a strong communications plan

Communication is key to building a successful company in any sector. Whether you’re communicating externally to build awareness, or internally to gain team buy-in, how, and what you communicate is an important consideration for your business. 

Bernd Christmas shared his thoughts on the importance of communication. “ … You also have to have, in my opinion, a very strong communication plan, and that plan is with your potential shareholder,” said Christmas. “In our case, it’s usually what’s the community’s needs. In a startup, I suppose it would be what is the shareholder expecting, what would they want and where would they want the company to be?”   

When developing a communications plan, it’s important to remember who your audience is and consider what information they need. From there, you can develop your goals, objectives and tactics, and create key messages that resonate with your audience and accomplish your goals.

Invest in differentiating your business 

Setting your company apart from competitors is one of the most important steps you can take to grow a successful business. But, standing out in a crowded marketplace can be tough. Christmas shared how he worked with the Indigenous community in Membertou to setup processes and systems that would later lead to a number of major opportunities for the community.     

“In our case, we tried something very unique and different, which was the ISO management systems,” Christmas explained. “We decided [to] differentiate ourselves from every other First Nations community and corporations by being designated ISO compliant on our management systems to separate us from the rest of the indigenous communities in Canada as well as globally.”

Christmas recommended that founders don’t underestimate opportunities that can come from having certifications and systems in place that make it easier to enter procurement processes and supply chains for large organizations.

“It is amazing, if you don’t have those papers, those certifications, it does push you back,” Christmas said. “Yes, it costs money when you’re trying to develop these things, but what is the trade off?”

Turn competition into collaboration

The greatest successes can come from working with competitors – not against them. Early and growth stage companies tend to thrive when resources such as knowledge and mentorship are readily available. In small startup communities like the ones across Atlantic Canada, we can all benefit from sharing lessons learned or being a mentor. 

“Sometimes it’s good to work with the wolf pack. You want to differentiate yourselves, but on the other hand, you also want to be with the wolf pack … , so to speak, because there is safety in numbers,” Christmas explained. “In our case, we work collaboratively on a local, regional and national basis and there is usually a commonality of an issue or challenge that you can [rally] around. By all tackling the issue as one, success will come in many ways.” 

A great example of collaboration creating opportunity in the region is the Ocean Supercluster. The Supercluster was a major achievement for the region that is projected to add 3,000 jobs and $14-billion to the Canadian economy over the next 10 years.

 

In business, learning should never stop and business leaders must look for new sources of inspiration when it comes to thinking of innovative ways to remain competitive. Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for many years, indigenous communities throughout the country provide an incredible example of the types of actions you can take to help drive success in your organization. 

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