Indigenous entrepreneur secures $500,000 FedDev grant with support from Georgian College

For about 20 years, Chad Solomon travelled across Canada in search of ways to help his fellow Indigenous artists prosper.

Now, Solomon’s dream is getting a big boost, as he is receiving a $500,000 grant from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev) to support Biskane, his online marketplace that sells eco-friendly, authenticated Indigenous art direct from the source.

A person with short brown hair and a tan jacket sits at a wooden table with Indigenous artwork in front of them.
Chad Solomon is receiving a $500,000 grant from FedDev for his online Indigenous marketplace business.

The funding was announced today at Georgian College, where Solomon received help from the Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre to develop his business and apply for the FedDev grant.

“I have not found a proper way to identify one word that shows my excitement, my enthusiasm, my jubilation. The easiest way to say it is I’m deeply moved and honoured to have the privilege to work with FedDev to make opportunities for other Indigenous People to make their lives better,” said Solomon.

“Being able to have the support to help other people is one of the greatest gifts you can give another person, whether you’re Indigenous or not. It’s a very human thing.”

A group of people hold a sign reading "Investing in People, Potential and Possibilities" while standing between to Canada flags on stands.
FedDev Ontario Minister Filomena Tassi, centre, announced over $1.6 million in funding for two Indigenous-led businesses while at Georgian on Friday.

Fixing a disconnect for Indigenous artists

Solomon, an Aanishinaabe member of the Henvey Inlet First Nation, said he started his business out of a desire to use technology to solve the disconnect between artisans and where and how they can sell their work.

“Biskane helps Indigenous artisans get into retail spaces. It also includes sales tax deductions for customers with Indigenous status cards, which is normally a complicated and frustrating experience for retailers and customers.”

This summer, he also hired Shannon Sokolsky, an Indigenous alumna of Georgian’s Advertising and Marketing Communications program as Biskane’s Customer Success Specialist.

Two people stand at a podium next to a Canada flag.
Chad Solomon, right, thanked his employee Shannon Sokolsky, a Georgian alumna, at the funding announcement Friday.

Solomon said he is grateful for the “phenomenal” support he has received from Georgian’s Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre.

“The people there are absolutely some of the finest business support people I’ve had the blessing to work with. It’s been a joy,” Solomon said.
“The most helpful part, for me, is having a mentor to bounce some of those vital business ideas off and to ask about things I have yet to experience in the business world. Pulling on the seasoned ears of experts really helped me gather valuable information.”  

Chris Adams is Solomon’s mentor at the Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre.

“Sometimes when you’re inside of a fishbowl, so focused on what you’re working on, you can’t always see the outside perspective. It’s nice to have the entrepreneurship centre there to provide you with what you may not be seeing as the entrepreneur,” he said. “Seeing Chad succeed warms my heart.”

How can the Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre help me?

We have four main pillars of support:

1. Mentorship

We currently have 16 mentors who are subject-matter experts in fields such as sales and financials. Many of them are entrepreneurs coming from industries such as food, retail, e-commerce.

2. Funding

We don’t fund companies but we do help them prepare for and apply for grants, loans and other investment opportunities. Chad Solomon is a good example of how the centre surrounded him with a team of experts to support his initiative to scale his business and successfully receive $5000,000 in FedDev funding.

3. Training

We support student and community entrepreneurs with a variety of training events, such as Further Faster, Hackathons and Mentor Mashups, to name a few.

4. Connections

Starting and building a business is a challenging journey, and success quite often depends on who you know rather than what you know. Our team and mentors are very well connected within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and we help our clients connect with the right people or organizations to accelerate their paths.

Do I have to have a fully formed business idea first?

No! Entrepreneurs are idea generators, they are problem solvers, and they are passionate about their ideas. What most don’t have is a plan, so that’s where we come in.

We support entrepreneurs at all stages of their development with resources that would help them start to build and grow. We see over 300 new clients per year.

How do I contact the entrepreneurship centre?

Check out our website, which has information about who we are, what we offer, and an intake form that takes less than three minutes to complete. Once submitted, you are asked to schedule a virtual orientation session, where you will get detailed information about Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre, our supports and services, and how to engage further.

– Don Bourne, Client Services, Mentor at the Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre

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