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Paving the way for Indigenous women entrepreneurs

By Erica Howes
Communications Specialist

This digital literacy program for Indigenous women is focused on building an online business and shifting the perception of technology as something to be scared of, to a powerful tool for good.

You have an idea to start a business. But when it comes to setting up an online store, you freeze. Do you need to know how to code? Should you hire a developer? What happens if you get scammed? Which social media platforms should you be on, and how do you get set up?

It can be overwhelming at first. Learning new tech skills can feel like an obstacle to making your business dreams a reality. On top of that, you have limited financial resources, time, and are busy raising a family on your own.

Indige-preneurs program: Workshops to help set up an online business

Enter CompuCorps. From their experience running digital literacy workshops for youth in Ottawa, tech charity CompuCorps found that mothers, especially Indigenous women, were keen to learn online skills.

That’s why the Indige-preneurs program was formed. It leads digital literacy workshops for Indigenous women focused on building an online business.  

To get started, CompuCorps reached to out Indigenous community partners, doing a needs assessment to better understand the gaps in digital skills for Indigenous women and the barriers that were holding them back from participating in workshops.

The research told them that these women were often the sole providers for their families, couldn’t take time away from work, didn’t have access to technology or had financial barriers.

But they had a keen interest in learning new skills – often inspired by seeing their kids do the same.

Addressing barriers

Keeping these barriers top of mind, CompuCorps transformed the way they delivered workshops. 

They rallied a team of about 25 volunteers to lead training on topics like social media, e-commerce, and cybersecurity. 

Instead of a consecutive series of group classes at the same time every week, they offered individualized workshops for smaller groups and were flexible with timing. They created drop-in days where women could come in to get one on one help with a volunteer. Osman said she was getting messages at all hours from participants experimenting with their website, or excited to share something new they’d learned.

“Participants were very vocal about what skills they wants to acquire. They had a lot of robust entrepreneurial spirit and were picking up on concepts quicker than you would’ve thought,” said Osman.

Michele Bourque (pictured above) is a First Nations woman and Indige-preneurs participant. The idea to bring her bricks and mortar business Kwemaa online and create a new brand came from one of the sessions. She now sells clothing products online that help improve health and wellness.

The series of workshops that helped people like Michele was made possible through a grant from CIRA’s Community Investment Program.

Setting up your business online

CompuCorps created 15 specialized courses, and brought in expert guest speakers from local Ottawa businesses and trained volunteers to support participants as well. The curriculum included topics like:

  • Security online, as an entrepreneur
  • Social media marketing
  • Launching an online store
  • Market research for e-commerce

Participants left workshops armed with resources and a toolkit for setting up their business online, choosing a domain name, building the brand and setting up an online store.

CompuCorps got support from local Ottawa companies like Shopify, an online commerce platform for businesses, and Rebel, a registrar that sells domain names, to help participants get set up with their own websites and online stores.

Indige-preneurs became one of CompuCorps’ biggest digital literacy programs. They were aiming for 80 participants through the program but have now had more than 200 women get support through the program to build their business online.

Programs and resources for Canadian entrepreneurs

The ripple effect

Osman explained how the effects continue to grow.

These dozens of women trained share the skills they learn with their families and their communities are now part of a greater network of entrepreneurs in Ottawa. CompuCorps acts as a convener and makes introductions to connect participants with community partners and local businesses who can help extend the learning and the results.

“We’re empowering Indigenous women entrepreneurs,” said Osman. “It’s about increasing the number of Indigenous peoples who participate in the Canadian digital space and e-commerce economy.”

Osman said “it’s the start to something really special” and they’re looking to expand in the next few years.

Here’s more from Osman on CIRA’s latest podcast episode, the dot

Apply for a grant

CIRA is proud to support important projects like Indige-preneurs. Digital literacy is one of four funding areas in CIRA’s grants, which are now accepting applications. Apply by April 14 at 2 p.m. ET. 

Learn more about CIRA’s Community Investment Program grants.

About the author
Erica Howes

Erica works in corporate communications at CIRA. Her background is in writing and community relations in the non-profit sector. She is a graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program.