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Jedi Sets Up Aboriginal Accelerator

A new accelerator for aboriginal entrepreneurs has been established in New Brunswick, and it’s already witnessing great progress from the five teams enrolled in it.

The inaugural Aboriginal Business Accelerator is operated by the Joint Economic Development Initiative, or JEDI, a not-for-profit that supports Aboriginal participation in the New Brunswick economy. It works closely with the federal and New Brunswick governments. The Four tribal councils of New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Business Council govern JEDI.

JEDI started its 10-week accelerator on Jan. 22 to get more Aboriginal entrepreneurs into major industry supply chains and help them with fundraising for their businesses. With JEDI’s vast network in New Brunswick, they can connect Aboriginal entrepreneurs with angel investors and venture capitalists.

“You don’t often hear of aboriginal entrepreneurs getting the same investments that non-aboriginal entrepreneurs in tech get,” said JEDI Shipbuilding Strategy Manager Mark Taylor.

This year’s accelerator focuses on shipbuilding, aerospace and defence. The first cohort consists of five entrepreneurs: two in tech, two in manufacturing and one in clean tech.

One entrepreneur wants to create an app that tells disabled people how to better access buildings; one invented a better version of a river turbine in order to commercialize that technology; one wants to digitize user manuals; and one wants to improve machining with tech solutions, like big data.

The accelerator teaches the entrepreneurs human resource management, business development, financial management, how to raise capital, project management and research and development. The entrepreneurs receive a personalized study plan and business plan and a mentor in their specific fields.

The entrepreneurs in the accelerator will present at the JEDI plenary and at the New Brunswick Aerospace and Defence Association’s showcase in Moncton to publicize their work.

“We wanted to take an advantage of a new opportunity to bring some bright entrepreneurs together with high potential and put them through a customized accelerator program,” Taylor said.

New Brunswick hasn’t seen many Aboriginal entrepreneurs. Trevor Bernard broke this pattern when he was involved in three exits from Chalk Media (acquired by Research in Motion), Radian6 (sold to Salesforce for $326 million in 2011) and UserEvents (sold to LiveOps in California in 2014).

Bernard didn’t create Chalk Media or Radian6, but he did cofound and was Chief Technology Officer at UserEvents, which analyzes company data to determine when a customer runs into problems on a corporate website or other channel. UserEvents then notifies the company’s call centre to sort out the problem.

Bernard mentors an IT company in JEDI’s accelerator.

“There’s a lot of great accelerator programs out there that do amazing things, but the opportunity has presented itself to do more with aboriginal entrepreneurs,” Taylor said.

The governments of Canada and New Brunswick and the members of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Shipbuilding Engagement Strategy Working Group support JEDI’s Aboriginal Business Accelerator.

Taylor said JEDI and all their sponsors hope that the businesses can grow in the accelerator so that they can start hiring New Brunswickers.

“The more companies that are growing like this and hiring people, the more jobs are secure and the more of a positive economic impact the province,” he said.