The future of Indigenous entrepreneurship in Saskatoon is bright. To understand this, look no further than SREDA’s SOAR Kihiw Paskîyâkêwin Indigenous Entrepreneurship Competition. SOAR supports majority Indigenous-owned enterprises in the Saskatoon Region from any industry, awarding cash funding to entrepreneurs looking to grow their business. This year’s competition saw its top five finalists take home $45,000 in prize money.
This April, the 2022 Pitch Finale was held at Dakota Dunes Resort. There, the top five finalists presented for five minutes on their business idea, progress so far and plans for growth. All five impressed the judging panel, with Christine Marie of Awasis Boutique taking home the top prize of $15,000.
Of her experience with SOAR, Marie said: “In addition to learning how to craft a good pitch, I was so inspired by being in that room. Seeing the courage of everyone giving their pitches, as well as receiving the amazing help from all the experts. And right from the get-go, SREDA was super supportive, there to answer questions and cheer for you while you’re giving it your best shot.”
Awasis Boutique is the first Indigenous baby and kids’ apparel shop in Saskatchewan. Founded in 2018 after Christine saw how few clothing options were available to celebrate Indigenous culture, Awasis has seen success online and at retailers across Saskatchewan and Alberta. Thanks to the first-place prize at SOAR, Christine now plans to enhance her marketing and strategize about growth and expansion.
Christine’s most recent success? Awasis Boutique will be featured in the Summer 2022 Jilly Box offered by Canadian entrepreneur and influencer Jillian Harris. “I fully believe that everything happens for a reason,” said Marie. “Everything is lining up as we head into that season.”
Timothy Hudy, CEO of Theo Clean Janitorial Services, a commercial cleaning company, won SOAR’s second place prize of $10,000. Timothy channelled his more than 20 years of property maintenance experience into founding Theo Clean, where he’s proud to be able to provide Indigenous employment opportunities; over 75% of Theo Clean’s staff are Indigenous. He’s seen business growth already thanks to taking part in SOAR, with new clients reaching out and increased media interest.
After his SOAR win, Timothy plans to expand Theo Clean with the long-term goal of becoming the largest Indigenous commercial cleaning company in Saskatoon. He views the SOAR experience as an important contributor to building knowledge-sharing networks for Indigenous entrepreneurs. “It’s a wonderful event to showcase Indigenous businesses,” said Hudy. “It was so much fun, and I’ve learned a lot from it as well as getting our name out there.”
Both Christine and Timothy are passionate advocates for giving back to their communities. A portion of the proceeds from every Awasis Boutique Every Child Matters shirt is donated to organizations that support Indian Residential School survivors. Among other charitable donations, Theo Clean funds a scholarship for Yellow Quill First Nation youth graduating at the top of their class. And both entrepreneurs see this community involvement as central to their business.
“That’s something I’d say to every entrepreneur,” said Marie. “Find a way that you can support your community. It helps to keep you grounded. You’re doing this great thing with your gifts but remember to stay connected.”
“Being an Indigenous man,” said Hudy, “I was always taught to give back to our people. I’m very proud of giving back. I started the company when my son was born – I named it after him – because I wanted to show my children that you can follow your passion, succeed, and be able to provide for your family while giving back to the community.”