The Central Fire of Algonquin

Finding a job is difficult in its own right, but add the pressure and emotional toll of creating, funding, and growing your own business, and the task can seem insurmountable.

Two years ago, Algonquin College set on a course to better support its entrepreneurial students who may have otherwise felt alone. They submitted an ambitious multi-million-dollar proposal to the Government of Canada to fund not simply a business incubator, but a comprehensive community innovation centre.

Earlier this month, Algonquin College celebrated the grand opening of the Discovery, Applied Research & Entrepreneurship (DARE) District. Located on the unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin and Anishinabek peoples, and a first-of-its-kind in Ontario, DARE will house three brand-new facilities intended to provide space and resources to support the Indigenous traditions and learning that the college is now integrating into everything it does.

In an address to the College, Cheryl Jensen (AC President and Chief Executive Officer) defined the DARE District as a centre dedicated to entrepreneurship and the sharing of Indigenous knowledge – a “central fire of the college.”

Boasting upgrades like self-checkout kiosks for books and a green screen for presentations, the DARE District’s library will also be integrated with several other services, namely Ignite AC and Makerspaces. Building on a strong history of mentoring students, Ignite AC is a physical resource where students can learn from peers, employees, and most importantly elders (custodians of knowledge and experience) who have demonstrated success in entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, the makerspaces provide hands-on learning for new techniques developed from traditional skills and knowledge.

“The Dare District is really about putting our stake in the ground around an entrepreneurial mindset; AC believes we can create and embed an entrepreneurial mindset in our students, faculty and staff infused with traditional Indigenous knowledge,” says Ron McLester, Executive Director, Truth and Reconciliation at the College. “In addition to the typical business knowledge we want to really look at the benefits and utility of traditional Indigenous knowledge through a methodology of consensus building and community engagement work to do something that has not quite been done before.”

What makes this endeavor so powerful is its commitment to fostering Indigenous entrepreneurship, a mindset and practice that embraces mentorship, peer support, and cultural connections to transform the way we think about entrepreneurship.

Algonquin is taking these efforts yet another step further by hosting the inaugural Global Conference on Indigenizing Entrepreneurship (GCIE). On June 3-5, 2018, Elders, entrepreneurs, experts, policy makers, students, and others from across Canada and around the world will arrive in Ottawa to share best practices, compelling stories, and crucial insights on how Indigenous values, histories, and ways of knowing can transform the practice of entrepreneurship.

The event is open to anyone who is interested in the conference’s core mission and themes. Following a welcoming reception and dinner on the evening of the 3rd, JP Gladu (President and CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business) will set the stage on the morning of June 4th with his keynote address, in which he’ll touch on how the question of entrepreneurship spans issues as diverse as reconciliation, cultural sovereignty, and community wellbeing, while issuing a call to action for Canadians of all backgrounds to take part in practical change.

“Hosting the conference is pivotal to the AC community as a whole,” says Rod Skinkle, President of Academica Group, Algonquin’s partner in founding and organizing the conference. “Having just undergone one of the largest ever upgrades to reflect Indigenous identity, this conference will highlight their culture, spirit, and way of knowing to the world.”

Also presenting at the conference will be Shyra Barberstock (Entrepreneur and President - North America of Okwaho Equal Source).  A serial entrepreneur and Indigenous scholar, Shyra built Canada's first social networking platform designed specifically for the empowerment of Indigenous businesses. Look for her to deliver a thought-provoking breakout session on how relationships between Indigenous businesses can transform entire communities for the better.

Among the speakers closing out the conference will be Meagan Hill, a Harvard alumnus and member of the Six Nations of the Grand River near Brantford, Ontario. Hill will focus on how financial governance and investment practices can enable First Nations communities to manage their wealth not just for today, but for generations to come.

Ron McLester notes that initiatives like DARE and the GCIE are just two examples of the efforts that Algonquin College is making “to stoke a central fire by which others can sit, take heat by, and if they so choose to do so, draw from and use the flame to light fires in their own community.”

For more information on the Global Conference on Indigenizing Entrepreneurship, and to register, click here.

At Academica Group, we’re proud to work with hundreds of committed, passionate higher ed professionals who want to drive improvement at their institutions. By providing enhanced research capacity and expert guidance, we allow these professionals to work beyond resource limitations and seize more opportunities to positively impact the lives of their students, colleagues, and campus communities.

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