TD grants $450,000 to CapU’s Indigenous Digital Accelerator

Grant funding allows IDA to help grow Indigenous businesses in a meaningful way

Bridget Stringer-Holden // Associate News Editor

The lights dim. Machines whirr, and the projector rolls. Your name flashes onto the screen—you’ve finally made your debut. Only, you haven’t. Not really. While directors and production companies don’t always see eye to eye, it can be a traumatic experience for individuals who are Indigenous, Black and People of Colour. Indigenous directors are often forced to partner with non-Indigenous producers, who often take advantage of them. That’s where the Indigenous Digital Accelerator (IDA) comes in.

“Indigenous directors/producers don’t have the collateral to get loans from the bank… if they own a house, it’s often on a reservation, and reservation houses have no value as far as banks are concerned,” explained Doreen Manuel, Director of Bosa Centre for Film and Animation. “We help [Indigenous filmmakers like Loretta Todd] to build an online presence, like to upgrade her website and to grow her business in whatever way that means.”

Capilano University (CapU) launched the IDA fund in Spring 2019 to help Indigenous entrepreneurs succeed in Indigenous start-ups or companies, where Manuel serves as a program mentor and advisory board member. “I always saw that [Indigenous] businesses don’t really seem to take off and don’t seem to go anywhere,” she said about her 15 years of industry experience. “It has everything to do with marketing and the ability to reach out.”

In 2019, Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) partnered with CapU and offered $1.93 million in funding to be claimed by the end of 2023. Once the IDA program finds matching funds from other non-governmental donors, the equivalent WD funds become accessible.

On Sept. 28, 2020, TD Bank became the first major partner of the project, granting $450,000 toward CapU’s IDA program. This allows the program access to the matching amount of WD funding, and Manuel is hopeful that they will be able to access the rest before the three-year deal with WD is up. To date, CapU has contributed over $150,000 in-kind through personnel contributions and aims to contribute over half a million by 2023.

The IDA program is also in a partnership with an organization called INDIGENEXT, an already established Indigenous business accelerator. Duncan and Shane Kennedy from Indigenext are mentors in the program, and will be helping the IDA program create student employment and research opportunities, as well as establish 10-20 businesses/organizations in the next three years and create 100 new Indigenous jobs by 2025.

Surveys have shown that the majority of Indigenous businesses across Canada don’t advertise to markets outside their regions and can’t figure out how to get national or international clients or customers. “We can help these little businesses expand themselves into larger markets, and that’s what our goal is,” explained Manuel, noting the struggles businesses face in order to stay afloat during COVID-19.

“I couldn’t figure out why other people don’t [have web portfolios],” said Manuel, explaining the importance of her own website. “It’s a little expensive, but I think it’s worth it because what’s the point of making a movie if nobody knows about it?” 

As part of Manuel’s advocacy, she’s trying to get Indigenous artists on all levels access to funding that will help them break through the million-dollar ceiling. “You have incredible artists, like Loretta Todd, from all across Canada who are just phenomenal, but they struggle far too hard to break the million-dollar ceiling…and to me, that’s unacceptable, especially when non-Indigenous people can,” said Manuel, explaining how there are ample funds available for emerging artists who catch up to everyone else and get stuck trying to break the ceiling as well. “The reality is,” she said, “they only [provide funding] to the same, old, white men that they’ve been giving it to forever. Women can’t break in and People of Colour can’t break in. So I started calling them on it.”

“I’m battling against unions in the industry because they don’t want to hire our people,” said Manuel, explaining that people give lack of experience and hours as a reason not to hire her people, but no one is willing to hire them to give them that experience. “And it’s because the industry doesn’t want to hire anybody that doesn’t look like them, and it’s predominantly white men, and it’s not just an Indigenous problem, this is a Black and People of Colour problem too, that’s why I’m fighting on all fronts for all Indigenous, Black and People of Colour.”

Two pilot projects are currently underway, funded through the IDA. A business plan and proposal have been laid out for Chastity Davis Consulting, who will receive mentorship and help building a website and an online curriculum. Micheal Auger and Petie Chalifoux own a film company called Tohkapi Cinema but can’t seem to get broadcast deals to fulfil their dreams of resting a television series. “They’re not gonna get there without help,” said Manuel, who plans to get them a mentorship with a faculty member at CapU.

Both of these pilot projects will partner with Mitacs, who recently extended their program to include undergrad students instead of just graduate students. They’ll be hiring IDEA students to work on projects under faculty supervision—like establishing a website for Chastity Davis Consulting.

“Because of residential schools and the horrendous oppression that we have been under, we didn’t learn those skills,” said Manuel. “I was in residential school when I was a kid. I didn’t have any bank account when I was a kid, I didn’t learn those kinds of things. How are we supposed to–we’re already several steps back from the average person. We need to learn all that and grow and evolve.”

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