Cole Clark, founder of STLN LNDS. Photo: Submitted
An NWT-based creator is ready to take the next step with his business after qualifying for the final of Pow Wow Pitch, an annual competition for Indigenous entrepreneurs.
The contest’s finalists are nominated through a series of semi-finals representing different industry sectors.
Cole Clark, the founder of Behchokǫ̀-based STLN LNDS, came through the “creative” category and is now one round away from winning the top prize of $25,000.
Clark has already undergone two rounds of pitches and emerged from a pool of more than 2,400 applications. He says he had to deliver both of his pitches in challenging, unexpected settings.
“The first time, I ended up recording my pitch straight after returning from the hospital,” he said, describing an unexpected visit to the emergency room. The second time, he delivered his pitch from the back of a truck while evacuating from Yellowknife because of an oncoming wildfire.
From taking media classes in middle school to buying his first personal camera in high school, Clark said he has always had a knack for creative arts.
His multimedia production company, founded a little over a year ago, focuses on creating social media content for Indigenous artists. At the end of this year, he plans to launch a fashion brand in the hope of combining the two businesses.
The intention behind the project, Clark said, is to give Indigenous creators a brand that makes them feel welcome. “So they could feel safe, a place where they could voice themselves and voice their talents,” he said.
If he wins, he plans to allocate a certain amount of the cash for his business. He says the rest would be used to start a charity wing for his brand, which he plans to call the SL Foundation – or Stolen Lands Foundation.
“I want to dedicate X-amount of our revenue per year to the North, and Indigenous youth, to get them in recreational programs,” he said.
Inuvik internet scramble
Clark isn’t the only 2023 finalist with an NWT connection.
Tanis Simpson, who is originally from Sachs Harbour, won the “consumer products” semi-final to reach this year’s grand final, which will be broadcast on October 19.
Simpson is the co-owner of Qiviut Inc Fibre Mill, a business based in Edmonton that makes qiviut, a fibre processed from the inner wool of muskox.
Simpson said the women in her family and Elders in the North inspire her work, ensuring cultural traditions continue.
At the time of her second pitch, Simpson was visiting family in Inuvik when a wildfire disrupted the community’s internet access.
“I was in a bit of panic because I need internet to do my pitch,” she said.
To make sure her pitch was delivered without a hitch, she contacted the Inuvialuit Communication Society and found room in their office, which had uninterrupted access to the internet.
Simpson was a contender in Pow Wow Pitch last year, when her pitch focused on hand warmers, she said. This time, her pitch is the business as a whole. “We are more than just our hand warmers,” she added.
Another NWT entrepreneur, Yellowknife’s Kaitlyn White-Keyes, reached this year’s semi-finals.
White-Keyes said being raised around farmers’ markets and her family’s work led her to start her business, Ever Sweet Company, in 2020. The company produces handmade artisanal sweets sold online or at Yellowknife’s market.
“Despite an evacuation, and despite a pandemic … there are things I want to accomplish through my business and staying focused – that is what it’s all about,” she said.
This winter, she will join local organizations for the “Ever Sweet Feet” initiative, designed to keep peoples’ feet warm with clean socks.
Ultimately, White-Keyes hopes to buy a storefront.
Pow Wow Pitch has 16 categories. Others include the likes of non-profits, tourism, knowledge, health and wellness, food and drink, technology, fashion and youth.
The semi-finals were broadcast online daily from September 7 until September 15. Finalists will deliver one last pitch on October 19.