Pow Wow Pitch and Invest Ottawa: Working together to support Indigenous entrepreneurs

Jun 18, 2021

This June marks the 25th anniversary of National Indigenous History Month in Canada. It is a time for reflection and acknowledging and celebrating the incredible contributions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in Canada. 

Though this year has been filled with challenges, National Indigenous History Month provides an opportunity to acknowledge the past, look forward to building a better future, and share stories of the great contributions of Indigenous People.  

The events of this month also added to the story of Pow Wow Pitch, an Indigenous-led initiative created to empower Indigenous entrepreneurs, as it announced it will receive additional support through Seed Level funding from Invest Ottawa that will help expand its programming and create new success stories to come in the years ahead.  

It starts with an idea 

In 2010, local Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg entrepreneur Sunshine Tenasco stepped in front of the camera’s bright lights on CBC’s popular TV show Dragons’ Den, in search of support to help kickstart her small business.  

While successful in earning support with her pitch, her appearance on the show did more than just help her to kickstart much more than a business. It gave her the drive to help other Indigenous entrepreneurs who were facing common barriers in getting their business ideas off the ground, by giving them a similar opportunity and experience.  

With purpose driving a new motivation, Sunshine set out to create a pitch platform specifically for Indigenous entrepreneurs in hopes that it would provide them with the same inspiration and drive she felt.  

The Launch of Pow Wow Pitch  

An image of Pow Pow Pitch Founder Sunshine Tenasco, speaking into a microphone wearing a white "I heart Pow Pow Pitch" t-shirt and a black hat.

With help and support from local mentors, judges and sponsors, Pow Wow Pitch launched seven years ago at the Ottawa Summer Solstice Pow Wow.  

The initiative quickly grew to become North America’s premier pitch competition for emerging Indigenous entrepreneurs.  

And according to Sunshine, entrepreneurship is something that has always been a part of Indigenous culture all along, and just needed to be stimulated and reinvigorated.  

“I started Pow Wow Pitch because I believe entrepreneurship is the path to self-sufficiency,” she writes. “Entrepreneurship is a big part of Indigenous heritage.” 

“We used to call it trade, she added. “We are just reawakening to entrepreneurship.” 

Pow Wow Pitch supports Indigenous entrepreneurs with micro start-up cash and valuable mentorship in a collaborative and empowering environment that helps to address and mitigate the challenges of being an Indigenous entrepreneur.  

Since the program began, the growing pitch competition has awarded prizes to help over 20 Indigenous entrepreneurs ranging from soap producers to photography studios.  

Pandemic pause creates online potential 

As the program grew, plans were to expand it and offer it nationally. However, with pandemic conditions effectively putting a temporary end to in-person pow wow, Pow Wow Pitch had to move to an online model in 2020.  

While restrictions seemed to be closing doors for the growing program, shifting the program to an online delivery model expanded their reach and opened the door to enable pitches from Indigenous entrepreneurs across every province and territory.  

This year Pow Wow Pitch has already received applications from over 1,000 pitchers from across Turtle Island this year from online participants.  With the expanded scale and reach, Pow Wow Pitch had an opportunity to offer more than ever to Indigenous entrepreneurs.  

To ensure they had the support they needed to take advantage of the growth, they’ve teamed up with Invest Ottawa to help deliver expanded support for Indigenous entrepreneurs.  

A rich history – and a bright future 

By working together to deliver boot camps, programs and mentorship to help improve access to programming

 for Indigenous entrepreneurs, Pow Wow Pitch and Invest Ottawa have built a longstanding partnership in helping to support Indigenous entrepreneurs in the National Capital region and help them grow.  

Now with added Seed Sponsor support from Invest Ottawa, they’re looking to provide increased support to Indigenous entrepreneurs in accessing training, mentorship, funding, and a platform to showcase and celebrate their stories. 

“I am so proud Invest Ottawa is supporting Pow Wow Pitch to reach and support more Indigenous entrepreneurs,” said Sunshine.  Having the hometown support of my community helps me to stand taller as an entrepreneur so I can grow confidently knowing my community is rallying for my success and the success of Indigenous entrepreneurs.”    

To share some of the successes and the incredible work being done, they are launching a Podcast to share inspiring conversations with entrepreneurs, and plan to launch the Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards to celebrate and showcase Indigenous entrepreneurial icons. 

“I started Pow Wow Pitch because I believe entrepreneurship is the path to self-sufficiency,” she writes. “Entrepreneurship is a big part of Indigenous heritage. We used to call it trade. We are just reawakening to entrepreneurship.” – Sunshine Tenasco, Founder, Pow Wow Pitch  

Invest Ottawa’s role of support 

As a Seed-Level Sponsor of the Indigenous-led pitch competition and entrepreneurship program, Invest Ottawa will help adjudicate the Ontario Semi-finals, provide the top 25 Finalists with an Accelerator workshop, and contribute prize dollars for winning entrepreneurs.  

According to Sonya Shorey, Vice President of Strategy, Marketing and Communications, Invest Ottawa, Bayview Yards and Area X.O, the partnership provides more opportunities to provide free support, training, and mentorship to Indigenous entrepreneurs.  

“We are committed to becoming a better ally, supporting sustainable change, and empowering diverse entrepreneurs from every walk of life who drive our economic growth, she said.  

“We know the path to Truth and Reconciliation includes acknowledging the injustice and harm done to Indigenous people, past and present, and addressing the inequities that persist. We are honoured to collaborate with Sunshine and Pow Wow Pitch to support community-led action and help fuel the growth and success of Indigenous entrepreneurs today and tomorrow.” 

On June 29th, Sunshine will be hosting Indigenous Entrepreneurs Rising: A workshop for Indigenous entrepreneurs. This virtual training workshop is being provided for free to Indigenous entrepreneurs to help to empower them and equip them with ways to run their businesses efficiently and confidently.  Register here for free.  

Back to Blog