Wiikwemkoong entrepreneur makes finals of Pow Wow Pitch

Jennifer Menard-Shand

TORONTO – An Indigenous entrepreneur from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory who is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Staff Shop Incorporated has been selected as one of four individuals from Ontario who have qualified for the finals of the Pow Wow Pitch, North America’s premier pitch competition for emerging Indigenous entrepreneurs.

On September 22, Jennifer Menard-Shand joined Steven Vanloffeld, CEO of eSupply Canada Ltd., Tiana Byrnes, owner of Twin Equipment and Tool Rentals, and Keri Gray, owner of Shades of Gray Indigenous Pet Treats (the latter was also named as the Ontario winner in the semi-final competition and received a prize of $500), who have advanced to the finals for a chance to win $25,000 to take their businesses to the next level.

“Yes, we are going on to the finals,” Ms. Menard-Shand told The Expositor late last week. “We have been chosen as one of the four finalists from Ontario who have advanced to the finals.” 

This summer, 1,642 Indigenous entrepreneurs from across Turtle Island (Canada, the United States and Mexico) submitted one-minute video pitches of their businesses to win funds and support. 

In August, Pow Wow Pitch announced the semi-finalists and paired them with mentors to refine their business pitches in preparation for their presentation to the judges.

On September 22, 24 Indigenous entrepreneurs from Ontario pitched to a panel of judges, including RBC senior manager Tamer Gabbour; Shopify managing director, Canada, Ian Black; CIRA senior brand and communications manager Spencer Callaghan; Invest Ottawa Starter Plus Company mentor Hazel Harrison, and Canada Post director of parcels and eCommerce Luke Misczyk.

Jennifer Menard-Shand is the Wiikwemkoong CEO of Staff Shop Inc. Staff Shop supports Canadian, USA and Caribbean clients with hospitality, light industrial, retail, clerical, IT, finance, events, security, and executive search staffing solutions; payroll services; management and event planning services; business resources; a supply shop and affiliate services.

“We applied for Pow Wow Pitch to raise funds to support our mobile app project to help us to scale across Turtle Island,” said Ms. Menard-Shand. “Winning would provide further validation for those who join us and hire us. We want to shine bright for Indigenous entrepreneurs and communities and be an example of the C.S. Lewis quote, ‘You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the end’.”

Ms. Menard-Shand told The Expositor, “I’m originally from Sudbury, but my Indigenous Ojibwe family roots are from Wiikwemkoong. Manitoulin Island is where my mom, and grandmother are from, and I spend time on beautiful Manitoulin Island in the summer. I have property in South Bay.” 

Staff Shop Inc. is based in Toronto and serves clients in all parts of Canada, US, and the Caribbean.

“I grew up learning in the hospitality services business,” said Ms. Menard-Shand. “When my former boss moved on in 2018 he offered me this full service resource firm.”

“We started in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), and now have clients in all 10 (Canadian) provinces, the US and the Caribbean,” said Ms. Menard-Shand. 

“Congratulations to Keri, Tiana, Jennifer and Steven on advancing to the 2021 Pow Wow Pitch finals,” said Sunshine Tenasco, founder of Pow Wow Pitch. “Your resilience, creativity and commitment to celebrating and sharing our diverse Indigenous culture while making an impact is a testament to how our unique style of business can and will create a better future for us all.”

“Pow Wow Pitch is a tremendous showcase of Indigenous innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Dale Sturges, national director for Indigenous financial services at RBC. “Indigenous entrepreneurs play a critical role in creating innovative solutions, sustainable communities, economic prosperity. It’s an honour for RBC to be part of the Pow Wow Pitch this year as we play our part to put a spotlight on Indigenous innovations and share their inspiring entrepreneurial stories with Canadians at large. We’re so proud of all of our participants, finalists and winners, and we will continue to support their growth and success in the future.”

Ms. Tenasco started Pow Wow Pitch seven years ago to build a supportive community of Indigenous entrepreneurs as part of the Ottawa Summer Solstice Pow Wow.

“I started Pow Wow Pitch because I believe entrepreneurship is the path to self-sufficiency,” said Ms. Tenasco. “Being on Dragon’s Den changed my life. When Dragons Brett Wilson and Arlene Dickinson invested and believed in me, it gave me the courage to continue my entrepreneurship journey. I hope Pow Wow Pitch helps to give that gift to someone else.”

Ms. Tenasco announced the judges’ selection of the entrepreneurs advancing to the finals and the regional winner. The Pow Wow Pitch finals will take place on October 20. The entrepreneurs are pitching to win one of the following prizes: $3,000 for the alumni choice prize, $10,000 for second place, $5,000 for third and $25,000 for first place.

Ms. Menard-Shand told The Expositor, “$25,000 would help us scale across North America via our mobile app project, which will make it easier for the world to work with us while increasing the value of Staff Shop by 50 percent or more. More importantly, a win for Staff Shop would be a win for other Indigenous entrepreneurs and their communities who are inspired to join us or hire us.”