It’s not easy to launch a new business venture. It takes capital, market research, a sound business plan and a substantial network of support. Even under ideal conditions, the start-up phase can be overwhelming for new entrepreneurs. Indigenous women business owners face additional challenges like racism, access to capital and generating sales.
Entrepreneur Devon Fiddler is familiar with the precarious yet rewarding phase of business start-up. In 2015, Fiddler created an innovative Indigenous-themed fashion retail business, SheNative Goods Incorporated. The retailer sells handcrafted leather goods and apparel (shenative.com). Fiddler says her business philosophy is “community-based” and she wants to “support and encourage other Indigenous women.” SheNative’s popular t-shirt line features empowerment slogans like “Indigenous Boss Babe.”
SheNative is entirely Indigenous-owned. Fiddler’s production, design and sales staff is also of Indigenous ancestry. On June 1, 2019, the SheNative team moved into a new flagship store at 714A 2nd Avenue N. in Saskatoon.
Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan (WESK) recently expanded its services to include targeted, culturally relevant support for First Nations business owners, like Devon Fiddler. What do they need from WESK to create a successful venture? The Matchstick: Spark for Indigenous Entrepreneurs program originated from a May 2017 WESK re-brand. WESK determined that an underserviced demographic—Saskatchewan’s Indigenous women—could directly benefit from its expertise and support. Young Indigenous women make up a significant proportion of the Saskatchewan population and more than 36 per cent of them are under the age of fifteen.
WESK secured funding and the three-year project was underwritten by Western Economic Diversification Canada, the Saskatchewan government, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and the Saskatchewan Indian Equity Foundation. An advisory board was established and a needs assessment was conducted. Devon Fiddler is a member of the Matchstick advisory board and she’s facilitated an exploratory workshop for Matchstick assisting participants in the brainstorming phase of imagining a potential business venture.
Matchstick’s goals are ambitious. The program’s directive is to better engage and involve Indigenous women in entrepreneurship, strengthen Indigenous women’s role in entrepreneurship and to address the lack of entrepreneurial awareness of business ownership as a career opportunity. Matchstick aims to increase the number of Indigenous entrepreneurs in Saskatchewan and to cultivate support for business in Indigenous communities.
To date, WESK has visited eight First Nations communities to conduct on-site business plan training. 250 women participated in the business planning sessions. The core curriculum was adapted specifically for First Nations participants. “We are very pleased with the Matchstick project and its strategic direction,” says WESK’s CEO Prabha Mitchell.
The project is set to conclude in March 2020. Going forward, WESK intends to build on the momentum of the popular program to provide continued services to Indigenous women entrepreneurs. In order to expand the Matchstick program’s scope beyond the original three-year mandate, WESK is courting funders to secure additional project support.
Trailblazer Devon Fiddler’s success will certainly bolster WESK’s case for the continued investment in Indigenous-owned small business ventures. As Fiddler’s SheNative t-shirts proclaim: “She Believed She Could Do it and She Did.”