Erica Daniels, the founder of Kejic Productions, will be off to Ottawa later this year to compete in the national finals of the Pow Wow Pitch and a chance for a $25,000 prize after winning the Winnipeg competition.
For the self-made entrepreneur, that kind of money could mean the ability to make important investments in new equipment for her film and TV production company.
Pow Wow Pitch is a competition for Indigenous entrepreneurs that has been around for seven years, but last week’s event at Manito Ahbee, the local festival celebrating Indigenous arts and culture, was the first held live outside Ottawa.
Daniels, who is in her 30s, believes her success at the event is important to get the word out about Kejic and maybe create an opportunity to grow her business.
Kejic has been around since 2017, but has been solely funded by the business and Daniels’ own resourcefulness.
"Growing on our own maybe has been a little slow," she said. "But with the pandemic there has been lots of requests for our services and we found ourselves growing quicker and needing additional equipment. And equipment is quite expensive."
With a staff of five, Kejic does about 90 per cent of its work with Indigenous clients. In addition to corporate productions and training videos, the company does a lot of work in Indigenous communities as the local experts helping researchers at post-secondary institutions including Red River College and the University of Manitoba.
“Growing on our own maybe has been a little slow. But with the pandemic there has been lots of requests for our services and we found ourselves growing quicker and needing additional equipment. And equipment is quite expensive.” — Erica Daniels
That is a little ironic, in that Daniels, a member of Peguis First Nation, has no post-secondary experience herself. She got involved in a program called Just TV at the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre when she was 15 and became passionate about telling stories in film and video — especially Indigenous stories.
She has gone back to Just TV to help train others just as she was trained and commits time twice a week to train youth in film and television production at Southeast Child & Family Services.
"There are not that many Indigenous people in the field who are qualified to do this work. That’s why we are trying to train the up-and-comers," she said. "It is so needed for us to be telling our own stories."
That sentiment is part of the reason Sunshine Tenasco started Pow Wow Pitch in Ottawa seven years ago with the vision to empower Indigenous entrepreneurs worldwide.
“There are not that many Indigenous people in the field who are qualified to do this work. That’s why we are trying to train the up-and-comers. It is so needed for us to be telling our own stories.” — Erica Daniels
Tenasco said she was "supposed" to be a high school teacher but an appearance on the Dragons’ Den television show, where she landed an investment for her baby moccasins business, changed everything for her.
"They really put a lot of positive encouragement and faith in me and it made me realize we really need to see more of that in our communities," Tenasco said.
Although the pandemic halted live events, it allowed Pow Wow Pitch to expand across Canada and the United States with online events.
Now armed with blue-chip sponsors including RBC, Shopify, Meta and MasterCard, there will be three competitions in Canada, three in the U.S. and one in New Zealand this year.
Victoria Lennox, the former CEO of StartUp Canada, has been acting as executive producer for Pow Wow Pitch.
She said big-name sponsors were strategic, because platforms such as Shopify and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram can allow rural and remote entrepreneurs the chance to access the global digital marketplace.
It also brings to light the challenges rural entrepreneurs can have. Lennox said that some had to use snail mail to send their video pitches on USB flash drives to be able to enter Pow Wow Pitch.
"It underscores the importance of ensuring we are connected so we can all play on a level playing field," she said.
The Pow Wow Pitch is also important to increase inclusivity for Indigenous startups.
For instance, Daniels said that while she is always looking for support to learn and enhance her business, she was not familiar with North Forge Technology Exchange, the large Winnipeg business incubator support organization.
Lennox said that disconnect is all too common among Indigenous entrepreneurs.
"It is totally disconnected," she said. "The Indigenous community works with the Indigenous community. It is not part of the mainstream."
She believes a big part of overcoming that hurdle is confidence and the need to support the mainstream to create a safe space for Indigenous entrepreneurs to come in.
But when it comes to confidence, Erica Daniels is not lacking.
"I’m confident. I know my stuff," she said. "I have overcome a lot and I believe in myself and I believe in my values and what I am doing to help the community. It gives me strength in whatever space I go in."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.