Canada’s only Indigenous co-designed and community-delivered entrepreneurship program celebrates the graduation of its 50th cohort

June 21, 2022, Victoria, B.C. – The Indigenous Advancement of Cultural Entrepreneurship (I-ACE) program celebrates the graduation of its 50th cohort this week, marking this milestone with a total of 714 graduated students and over 233 businesses launched since the founding of the program in 2013. 

"Over nine years ago we were invited by TRICORP to co-create and deliver the I-ACE program,” said Dr. Brent Mainprize, Gustavson teaching professor and co-founder and director of I-ACE. “The I-ACE simply creates the spark and provides a guiding light of support and encouragement for students in-community to define themselves as entrepreneurs on their territory and under their terms.  It is the 700-plus graduates from the 50 cohorts who are the brave spirits traveling familiar paths that are changing their world by creating a solid economic future for themselves, their families and their communities throughout this country.” 

I-ACE involves 16 interactive learning modules where students are provided with hands-on entrepreneurial teaching and 16 weeks of coaching and mentorship to support prospective entrepreneurs who are taking the steps to own and operate their own businesses and contribute to their communities. 

Jory Bieniak is the operator of Energy Choice, a business that provides home heating and cooling solutions. Bieniak is one of the graduating members of the 50th cohort and found the access to instructors valuable. “Every instructor was very knowledgeable in their field,” said. “From building the business model to understanding the needs of each segment, all the instructors added value as I came from a trades background. We had access to a lawyer, an accountant and a marketing professional and we were able to receive direct assistance in all those areas.” 

Ninaatig Staats Pangowish, another student, agreed. “I really appreciated the time with lawyers and accountants.” Staats Pangowish proudly runs Ninnatigoons Learning, a program that ensures tomorrow’s children will have access to the Anishinaabemowin language. “I’ve always wanted to speak Anishinaabemowin for as long as I can remember,” said Staats Pangowish. “My father was a speaker of Anishinaabemowin, however, I didn't learn as a child. It wasn't until I was 18 that I started to take classes at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto.  It took some time, but I finally learned.  So today, my business is based on making Anishinaabemowin more accessible.” 

I-ACE is the manifestation of the late Dr. Frank Parnell’s vision for economic self-reliance for Indigenous peoples. In 2013, Parnell, then CEO of Tribal Resources Investment Corporation (TRICORP), invited the Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria to be the key education delivery partner for the ACE programs. Formed in partnership between TRICORP, the Gustavson School of Business, Indigenous communities and governments, the program has continued to grow.

Exponential growth of the I-ACE program has been fueled through the generous support of Tim and Frances Price, and BMO Financial Group. The combined contribution of $1,250,000 in 2018 has provided the catalyst to propel the I-ACE programs forward, and has enabled the business school to respond to community invitations to deliver the I-ACE programming in an additional 20 new locations throughout British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

To learn more about the I-ACE program, visit