Aboriginal biz tapping into big potential

Sto:lo Business Match will help build capacity for Sto:lo entrepreneurs and they'll do it by providing tools to forge new relationships

Sto:lo Community Futures reps are gearing up for Sto:lo Business Match. SCF general manager Mike Watson

The rapid rise of Sto:lo businesses is nothing short of exponential, and an upcoming event will spotlight the recent phenomenon.

“People have little idea about the extent of it,” said Mike Watson, general manager of Sto:lo Community Futures, about the rise of entrepreneurship in Sto:lo communities across the Lower Mainland.

Plans for Sto:lo Business Match, a business networking event set for Oct. 28-29 at the Abbotsford Ramada Plaza were rolled out in Chilliwack Friday by SCF reps.

The goal of Sto:lo Business Match is to showcase local businesses, prescreen and pair up potential partners and investors for short, intense meetings.

The two-day event could generate an estimated $5 to $10 million in new business for Sto:lo owners, stemming from the hundreds of meetings that will ensue, said Watson.

Sto:lo Business Match will see 20-minute appointments made online with a high-tech tool, for meetings between Sto:lo owners and big business reps. Then mini sessions will get underway at the Ramada to explore potential for partnerships.

The valley-wide Sto:lo event is modelled after a similar one held in Penticton, called Aboriginal Business Match, that generated a whopping $30 to $50 million in potential business relationships.

Of the 250 aboriginal businesses now identified in Sto:lo territory, a healthy 56 per cent are based in Chilliwack, where there are nine reserves within the city borders.

Sto:lo Business Match will help build capacity for Sto:lo entrepreneurs and they’ll do it by providing tools to forge new relationships and partnerships, said SCF board chair Shirley Hardman.

The growing demographic of Sto:lo business sector is a part of the “changing face” of aboriginal communities, and how they’re establishing tools for self-sufficiency, she said.

“Our people have been doing business for a very long time in Sto:lo territory,” she noted, adding they’re know historically for engaging in good business practices and sustainability.

With some businesses already having survived 10 and 20 years, “it shows we are an active part of the communities we live in,” she said.

One of the reasons why it’s so significant, is because the growth rate of First Nations business is about five times that of the non-aboriginal population, Watson pointed out.

SCF launched the branding initiative, Sto:lo Means Business, last April as the cornerstone of its five-year strategy to make Sto:lo territory the provincial hub for aboriginal business growth and excellence.

“It’s something the young people are embracing with vigour,” said Watson.

Chilliwack is followed by Agassiz and Abbotsford with 20 per cent and 10 per cent of businesses respectively. They range from restaurants, galleries, chiropractors, towing company and more. One of the stars is the Eagle Landing commercial development owned and developed by a Squiala First Nation with investors.

It all makes Chilliwack a central part of the business cluster being established and fostered by SCF. To maximize that potential, they’re increasing support services, along with the publicity machine, in an effort to get the word out about the business match event.

Here’s something that portrays the sheer scale of what’s happening.

In the time it took Sto:lo Community Futures staff in Chilliwack to put out a brochure describing the stellar growth on Sto:lo territory, the number of aboriginal-owned businesses actually spiked again, with 50 new ventures being added to the list, for an up-to-date total of 250 businesses with First Nations ownership.

Sto:lo territory is known for its inclusiveness on the business front.

“Sto:lo Business Match is about fostering relationships so we can all benefit,” said Louis De Jaeger, SCF board member and owner of Bravo Restaurant.

Two little known facts about Sto:lo businesses are that 45 per cent of have some form of community or band ownership, and many have a long-standing history of success.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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