It’s not a big leap to connect Saskatchewan with agriculture. We grow a lot of food here, despite our short growing seasons and extreme temperatures. Our wide-open spaces and arable land, combined with the hearty people who farm it, can produce a wide variety and huge volume of seasonal fruits, vegetables and traditional crops.
However, NutraPonics Canada is looking beyond the wide-open spaces and the existing supply chain for their expansion into Saskatchewan—they’ve got their eye on the things that make farming in Saskatchewan great, and removing the things that make farming here such a gamble. They’re not looking to replace the fields of golden wheat and lentils—they’re looking to supplement Saskatchewan staples with fresh fruits and vegetables, grown locally and sustainably, year-round.
The Nutraponics Growing System is already producing in Alberta and intends to bring the operation across the border into Saskatchewan. As an owner of NutraPonics Canada Corporation and its sister company NGKBiologix, Shaun Soonias is working to open a pair of facilities in Warman. “NutraPonics is an indoor vertical aquaponics farm (IVAF) that focuses on leafy greens and vine veggies. NGKBiologix is our sister company that focuses on medical marihuana production using NutraPonics technology,” Soonias explains.
While things are still in the development phase, Soonias is excited about the expansion into Saskatchewan. “I see some great opportunities ahead to establish Saskatoon and Saskatchewan broadly as a leader in IVAF from a commercial standpoint but more importantly from a research, development and educational foundation,” he explains, “The University of Saskatchewan houses the Global Institute for Food Security and Water Security as well as being a leading medical, doctoral and agricultural university. Further, Saskatchewan Polytechnic, along with the First Nations University of Canada (FNUC) and Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) are moving into these sectors as well.”
So, Saskatchewan is well situated to be a leader in education, training and research, but a healthy relationship with First Nations is also an important part of Nutraponics expansion plans. Soonias is on the front lines of First Nations economic development and says that Nutraponics intends to make Indigenous inclusion a part of the company’s competitive advantage.
“With Reconciliation and the integration of First Nations values into business, plus partnerships between First Nations entrepreneurs and Saskatchewan business leaders, we intend to demonstrate best practice in business development,” says Soonias. It’s a plan that moves innovation towards changing how food is produced and helps build financial security for local citizens. “We envision a long-term business structure,” he explains, “We’re creating a business that offers employment growth and long-term security to employees.”
Long term job security isn’t really a part of the job description for entrepreneurs, but the flexibility and freedom to do your own thing can be very appealing to the right people. Since he was 16 years old, Chris Ross of IndigenX Media has been running his own businesses—having started with an Indigenous youth newsletter in Fort Qu’Appelle. From there, he explored other marketing and promotions, including newspaper, magazines, music promotion, a television show and now a production company based in Regina. “I think advertisers and marketers are starting to grasp new technologies in Saskatchewan,” Ross says, when asked if the marketing industry is keeping pace with technology. “It’s a growing market and we need to see more young companies to change the environment.”
Change comes quickly and often in Ross’s industry. “I’ve recently changed the direction of my company from an advertising agency to a television/film production and marketing company,” says Ross. Ross was selected to be a part of the National Screen Institutes IndigiDocs Program, where he’s working with local director, Candy Fox, and producing a short film. The pair travelled to Winnipeg with the program for a filmmaking bootcamp and attended the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto. It was enough to make the entrepreneur shift gears again, following his passion. “I started to realize that I was in the wrong business – that I should be in the film business,” says Ross.
IndigenX made a pivot and Ross has been focused on integrating the services they do offer into the projects that he wants to work on—film projects. “There aren’t a lot of Indigenous films being made in Saskatchewan right now, therefore I see a market opportunity for IndigenX to start exploring different television and film ideas,” he says. “As entrepreneurs and filmmakers, we can’t limit ourselves to provincial borders, we have to look at the opportunities the film industry provides nation wide,” he continues, “Based on my knowledge and market research there is going to be a huge demand for Indigenous films and filmmakers.”
So, Ross is doing what all entrepreneurs do—trying to find the right combination to offer the right people at the right time, which is no simple task whether you’re an established company trying to do new things in the province, like Nutraponics, or you’re a relatively new company trying to break into established and evolving fields, like IndigenX. “Running a business in Saskatchewan can be great if you find the right market or sell the right product or provide something that no one else is really doing but being Indigenous and running a business in Saskatchewan can sometimes limit you to that ten percent of the market,” says Ross. “So now you’re trying to find out who can use your services within the Indigenous community, and for myself it has worked great, but to a certain degree.”
Ross says he is learning quickly that IndigenX Media can’t limit itself to the ten percent. It needs to stand with other competitors in the larger market. “With multi-media, there’s a lot of people doing it. Now it’s just about being great at what I do, being different and coming at it with a fresh approach to doing business and making creative things for clients,” says Ross. “I am an Indigenous storyteller and that makes me different and unique.” Ross believes entrepreneurs have to rely on what makes them different, find their own story and examine why they love what they do. “If clients can see you connect deeply to your work, then money is secondary because they know the product will have some passion in it, says Ross. “That’s how I think you have to approach doing business in Saskatchewan.”