Engaging, Teaching, Inspiring, and Exploring at NAABA’s Aboriginal Business Showcase
As the Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association continues to grow, so does its annual showcase.
NAABA’s Aboriginal Business Showcase turned 12 this year and has evolved to become the association’s premier business networking event of the year. It attracts existing and potential clients and contractors from across the Athabasca Oil Sands Area to engage with the businesses that make this association strong.
This two-day event, held this year at Shell Place, featured a variety of facets designed to engage, teach, spur discussion, inspire and explore current business trends.
It was also an opportunity to showcase full NAABA members (registrants) to industry partners as well as other important stakeholders from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo providing members with excellent presentations and valuable discussions that support their business development.
Youth were also an important thread in this year’s showcase; invited to a storytelling series to hear the success stories of Aboriginal entrepreneurs.
Cheryl Alexander, NAABA’s current chair, and owner of CO Consulting Ltd., recalls brainstorming with Nicole Bourque-Bouchier about hosting a showcase years ago.
“I remember the first showcase and there were a handful of businesses that had displays set up behind their tables. The following year, there were more businesses that added items to their displays including additional backdrops,” she recalls.
“We began our showcase at the old Sawridge conference centre. Today, we have more than doubled that initial space showcasing a wide range of services that the local Aboriginal businesses offer.”
The showcase has become an annual event that local Aboriginal businesses look forward to participating in. While some entrepreneurs have attended the majority of the showcases held over the years, there are some who have never missed any.
“It’s amazing how quickly time has gone by. It’s really exciting to see how our entrepreneurs are growing,” said Alexander.
“It’s so rewarding to see how new entrepreneurs and new companies from years ago are still here; still attending the showcase.”
They’ve grown, learned how to network and how to grow their company. It’s so important to have a new business and entrepreneur showcase themselves every year, she observed.
“At the same time, it’s so rewarding for myself to see so many entrepreneurs come year after year, and also see their growth.
“That’s what I’m most proud of.”
Todd Pruden, NAABA’s first vice-president and owner of Dreamline Canada Promotions, adds that the showcase also provides Aboriginal companies an opportunity to break free from assumptions buyers may have about what they think the companies can do.
“A lot of Aboriginal businesses get pigeonholed. The showcase is an opportunity to say, ‘We’re not just this; we’re this and this …,” he explains.
As an example, he cites his own company which many know for the promotional material it produces, but Dreamline is also in the business of personal protection equipment - more readily known as PPE.
Alexander agrees, adding the showcase is a valuable tool for Aboriginal entrepreneurs to display their company and what services they can offer.
“There are so many approaches that they can utilize to showcase their company. NAABA is geared to create the opportunity for networking and making contacts. We trust that our Aboriginal businesses are receiving value add by participating in the showcase.”
This year’s showcase continued from the success of last year’s format change as a two-day event to better support its business members as they grew, developed and adapted to the changing economy.
Helping that motivation, was a factor more readily noticed by several NAABA members participating in the showcase: The people making the all-important procurement type calls were actually attending the event.
Pruden noted that representatives from companies such as Syncrude, Suncor Energy, and CNRL were visiting the event. this provides a valuable opportunity for companies to really promote who and what they are to the right decision-makers.
Having the opportunity to showcase local Aboriginal businesses is key, according to Lloyd Antonine, as it demonstrates to all the players in industry that the services they are looking for can be found locally.
Antoine is NAABA’s second vice-president and co-owner of A.P.E. Maintenance Ltd. which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
He was also quick to point out the benefit to those exhibiting at the showcase that the “people who actually make the calls are here today.”
Pruden admits he would like to see more partnerships between Aboriginal businesses.
It was a partnership between four Aboriginal companies that completed one of the first projects of the fledgling NAABA.
That project was building Syncrude’s hanger for its corporate jets.
Dave Tuccaro, one of NAABA’s founders, has recalled that his company did the civil work while Doug Golosky’s company did all the steel work. Bruce Golosky’s business hauled in all the materials for the project. Mikisew Cree First Nation was also involved as the contract coordinator.
“That’s how we got our first project done collectively. The four of us. It was our first opportunity to work together,” recalls Tuccaro.
“We do try to support one another,” says Pruden. “One company can say to another, ’Hey. I really like your promotional material. Where did you get it?’” he cited as an example. “‘Dreamline Promo and PPE’
“Such a conversation can drive a new customer our way.”
This year’s showcase culminated with a dinner and robust panel discussion exploring current business trends in the region and country.
Prior to the discussion, Bruno Francoeur, regional operations executive for Suncor Energy, the presenting sponsor, said a few words before he was joined on stage by Chief Ron Kreutzer of Fort McMurray #468 First Nation. Christina River Enterprises, the business entity of the Fort McMurray #468 First Nation, is one example of a long-term business partnership with Suncor.
The panel belonged to the ladies and it was some of the most powerful women in the region who spoke: Shelley Powell, senior vice-president, Base Plant, Suncor Energy; Doreen Cole, managing director, Syncrude Canada Ltd.; and Nicole Bourque-Bouchier, co-owner and CEO, Bouchier Group. Opening remarks were given by Holly Cooper, director Indigenous relations, ATB. The Financial Moderator was Shannon Pestun, director, Women’s Entrepreneurship Business & Agriculture, ATB Financial.
The theme of the discussion focused on economic development in its relation to being one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, looking at local Aboriginal entrepreneurs and how that is key because that is our traditional territory, says Alexander.
Photography by Paul Jen