British Columbia

8 young entrepreneurs named as winners of the annual B.C. Indigenous Business Awards

The B.C. Achievement Foundation is honouring eight First Nations entrepreneurs for excellence in business.

'I'm taking every opportunity as a growing opportunity,' says award winner Elijah Mack

Elijah Mack, left, and Lynn-Marie Angus are two of the recipients of this year's Indigenous Business Award from the B.C. Achievement Foundation. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC, Submitted by Lynn-Marie Angus)

Merritt B.C.s Elijah Mack and Vancouver's Lynn-Marie Angus say they didn't have a solid background in business before running their companies, yet the two young First Nations members have just been recognized for their excellence in doing exactly that.

In late October, the B.C. Achievement Foundation — an independent B.C. organization established in 2003 to recognize the accomplishments of B.C.'s entrepreneurs, artists, community leaders, youth and volunteers — announced eight recipients, including Mack's Kekuli Café and Angus's wellness product wholesaler Sisters Sage, for its annual Indigenous Business Awards.

Mack was named young entrepreneur of the year, while Sisters Sage was named business of the year in the category of businesses comprising one to two people.

Other recipients include Tsawwassen Shuttles, a company based in Delta providing transportation and street cleaning services and Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., in Port Coquitlam.

Indigenous Business Award recipients of young entrepreneur of the year and business of the year each receive a $2,500 cash prize.

Award nominees must be based in B.C., at least 51 per cent Indigenous-owned and have operated for at least two years.

Mack, a Nuxalk member originally from Bella Coola in northwestern B.C., has been an advocate for setting up Indigenous friendship centres in urban areas for more than a decade, before purchasing a Kekuli Café franchise in Merritt two years ago from its co-founders Sharon Bond and Darren Hogg.

A new Kekuli Café branch is being built in Kamloops, B.C. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

He says he didn't have any post-secondary education before embarking on the venture but jumped at an opportunity that has been a childhood dream.

"I'm taking every opportunity as a growing opportunity," Mack, 25, told CBC's Jenifer Norwell in Kamloops, where he's also planning to run a Kekuli Café branch

"I was 12 years old going home in Bella Coola, and it was just me and mom. She had to ask me what I wanted to do in life, and at that time I said, 'You know what? I'm going to be my own boss because I hate being told what to do.'"

WATCH | Mack says his experience demonstrates to young people that anything is possible:

Mack says he struggled with racism and discrimination early in his life and once felt hopeless but says he took those challenges as learning opportunities and managed to overcome them.

"I always say I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so I just appreciate every opportunity," he said.

Sisters Sage's story is also about hard work and seizing opportunity.

Angus, 37, a member of the Gitxaala, Nisga'a, Cree and Métis nations living in Vancouver, worked at a construction company for a few years, before opening an online business with her sister in September 2018 selling handmade soaps and bath bombs.

She says she faced racism and sexism at work, and her sister was at risk of homelessness at that time, but thanks to a little financial assistance from the University of British Columbia's entrepreneurship program, the sisters were able to kickstart their business.

"We have to do something better and … we want to be our own bosses. We want to promote our growth personally, our growth financially, spiritually, culturally and all of these different aspects of our life." 

WATCH | Angus explains why she started a wellness product company with her sister:

Angus encourages aspiring Indigenous entrepreneurs to get out of their comfort zone and do something different.

"Growth doesn't come at the speed of comfort — you have to be putting yourself in uncomfortable situations to gain that growth and to learn and to advance."

Handmade soap products from Lynn-Marie Angus's company Sisters Sage. (Submitted by Lynn-Marie Angus)

The full list of B.C.'s Indigenous Business Award recipients this year includes:

  • Young entrepreneur of the year: Elijah Mack, Kekuli Café, Merritt.
  • Business of the year: one-to-two person enterprise: Sisters Sage, Vancouver.
  • Business of the year: three-to-t10 person enterprise: Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., Port Coquitlam.
  • Business of the year: 11-plus-person enterprise: Tsawwassen Shuttles Inc., Tsawwassen.
  • Community-owned business of the year — one entity: Thunderbird RV Park & Cottage Resort, Campbell River.
  • Community-owned business of the year – two or more entities: Gitmaxmak'ay Nisga'a Economic Development Corporation, Prince Rupert.
  • Business partnership of the year: Salish Seas LP, North Vancouver.
  • Award of Distinction: former Saulteau First Nations chief Ken Cameron, Moberly Lake. 

With files from Jenifer Norwell and Daybreak Kamloops