Indigenous-ACE programs

The Indigenous-ACE programs provide culturally sensitive and community-tailored entrepreneurial and business education to ensure the full participation of Indigenous people in the Canadian economy.

In 2013, the late Dr. Frank Parnell, CEO, Tribal Resources Investment Corporation (TRICORP), invited Dr. Brent Mainprize, and a collaborative team of Indigenous leaders and Elders, industry representatives and Gustavson School of Business (GSB) professors, to design an entrepreneurial program that would provide the knowledge, skills, and experience prospective Indigenous entrepreneurs need to successfully launch and manage a business.

Designed with a strong focus on bridging Indigenous culture, and combining cutting‑edge business concepts with experiential learning, the Northwest Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs (NW-ACE) program emphasized understanding the market opportunities, the needs and interests of each student, and the value of mentorships. The innovative model of face-to-face and practical applied learning supported participants with an integrated and culturally appropriate approach to become experts in entrepreneurship by encouraging deliberate practice of key skills.

Partnering with federal and regional governments, industry and a post‑secondary institution acknowledged full validation of the program, greater accessibility for our members, and the business expertise and mentorship of professionals in entrepreneurship.
- Dr. Frank Parnell, CEO, TRICORP

Since 2013, in partnership with TRICORP, UVic GSB has customized and delivered by invitation more than 35 ACE programs in Nations spanning northern BC, the Interior, the Kootenays, Central Coast, Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island.

image In 2020, the program re-branded as Indigenous Advancement of Cultural Entrepreneurship (I-ACE). While maintaining the same award-winning entrepreneurial training, a new logo, designed and licenced by Indigenous artist, Richard Shorty, and an online learning platform, enhanced Dr. Frank Parnell's vision.

I-ACE will continue to highlight collaboration, social innovation, experiential learning and positive cultural identity, while adhering to Indigenous values that guide communities’ economic approach: sustainable use of resources and revitalization of culture.

Tourism and cultural-based business training

Funding from the BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, contributed to customized entrepreneurial training initiatives. Community Workforce Development Grants provided Halalt Nation and Malahat Nation with funds for the skills training and supports needed to meet their local labour market needs.

When Halalt and Malahat Nations received Community Workforce Development Grants, they collaborated with NCIED and Gustavson School of Business (GSB) to design and deliver in-community, entrepreneurial programs customized for their communities.

The Malahat Economic Development and Entrepreneurship Training delivered leading business and management education to entrepreneurs, project managers and economic development managers to foster entrepreneurial development while the Halalt Tourism Skills Development focused on providing the skills, knowledge and mentorship to support entrepreneurs in tourism.

Engaging participants in entrepreneurial training without foregoing their traditional values was a key principle of the initiatives. Opening ceremonies culturally acknowledged the importance of the beginning of the journey while graduation celebrated the completion. Community leaders and Elders recognized and honoured the participants for their commitment and success in the learning journey.

Each program, based on community needs, consisted of culturally sensitive curriculum, delivered in community. Approximately every other weekend, for four months, experienced GSB professors, Indigenous facilitators and industry experts presented 2-3 day integrated modules. Tristan Gale, Executive Director, Environment and Sustainable Development, Malahat Nation, described the program as follows.

The Malahat Economic Development and Entrepreneurship Training program offered an incredible opportunity for the Malahat Community to immerse themselves in a challenging and thought provoking learning environment. The custom tailored program built upon the unique experiences of the students provided the tools necessary for them to start viewing the world through the lens of entrepreneurship. Through this program, Malahat Members and First Nations individuals from neighboring Nations built relationships with each other and also with industry leading instructors that will last a lifetime. Everyone involved in the development, operation and completion of this program is excited to see where the graduates take their entrepreneurial journey next. A huge thank you goes out to the University of Victoria, NCIED and WorkBC for the financial and administrative support that made this program such a success.

Malahat Economic Development and Entrepreneurship Training graduation, March 1, 2020

Project managers (PMs), hired from within the community, provided support for participants and instructors from recruitment to graduation.

Tricia Thomas, Laxəlewetstnaat, creative director and owner of Salish Eye Productions, a media and communications company; Community Strategic Advisor for Halalt Community Economic Development; and Project Manager, remarked at the graduation:

Indigenous people have started to re-assert the importance of traditional teachings and Indigenous entrepreneurs are fuelling the economy. The Halalt Tourism Skills Development program, founded on Indigenous culture, offered aspiring entrepreneurs world-class business skills and shared experiences to help them discover opportunities in their territory and develop self-sufficiency at both the individual and community level.

Multifaceted responsibilities of PMs led to the success of the training. In part, PMs assisted with recruitment; supported participants to understand the concepts presented in the modules; facilitated the navigation of interpersonal dynamics; ensured the general well-being of participants throughout the program; and enabled a smooth transition between instructors, including information about local Indigenous culture. In-community mentors provided coaching and offered insight into community relationship building and personal aspects of entrepreneurship.

Group photo of the Malahat Economic Development & Entrepreneurship Training program participants

Malahat Economic Development & Entrepreneurship Training

Group photo of the Halalt Tourism Skills Development program participants

Halalt Tourism Skills Development

EAGLE e-Commerce

The E-commerce EAGLE program, Empowering Aboriginal Generation of Leaders and Entrepreneurs, developed in partnership with Western Diversification, NCIED and Gustavson School of Business (GSB), provides an innovative and community- tailored business education focused on e-commerce. Adapted from the ACE program, the E-commerce EAGLE balances cutting-edge concepts with practical, experiential learning to explore entrepreneurship and e-commerce in a culturally appropriate way.

Structured around six integrated modules, content was delivered face-to-face in-community by a team of GSB professors, Indigenous facilitators and industry-leading experts in entrepreneurship, Indigenous economic development, social media, marketing, website development and e-commerce. Six weeks of one-to-one mentorship followed the classroom delivery.

The mentorship phase supplemented the classroom learning, challenging the student to apply their knowledge in the greater community. The experience of the mentor, and the interaction with the mentor, provides participants with insight into community building and the personal aspects of entrepreneurship. The mentorship component of the program guides prospective entrepreneurs and opens doors to networking and financial opportunities.

By the end of the program, E-commerce EAGLE graduates are entrepreneurs. Measurable learning outcomes include:

  • Approach businesses by using Indigenous culture and heritage, not losing
  • Start new collaborative-based E-commerce businesses that are viable and durable and access markets beyond their communities. 

  • Create community-based employment in areas of BC.
  • Build the learning confidence of Indigenous students to further their education beyond the E-commerce EAGLE program. 


Funding from Western Diversification, announced on September 9, 2019, supported the delivery of three E-commerce EAGLE programs. Programs were delivered in Kamloops and Cranbrook for Indigenous youth, while the third was delivered in Vancouver, at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design for Indigenous artists from across BC.

2019-2020 NI-ACE (Campbell River)

The North Island-ACE (NI-ACE) program, designed and developed in collaboration with the Nanwakolas Council, was delivered in partnership with the North Vancouver Island Aboriginal Training Society (NVIATS) in Campbell River. Nanwakolas Council serves six member Nations: Mamalilikulla, Da’naxda’xw Aweatlatla, Tlowitsis, Wei Wai Kum, Kwiakah, and K’ómoks, and the program was tailored to encourage and realize the entrepreneurship potential of members.

Delivery of integrated modules began in January 2020. A cohort of enthusiastic participants, eager to start the program, gathered on the first day with Renée Letellier, NCIED manager, (far left) and Dr. Brent Mainprize (far right).

Participants completed the program in March. Unfortunately, due to the COVID pandemic, the graduation ceremony will be held when COVID-19 guidelines allow engagement in Indigenous communities.

Desirée Barrow, the program manager, happily reports that she has all the certificates ready and looks forward to seeing the cohort soon.

The NI-ACE Program provided an ideal landscape for aspiring entrepreneurs from North Island Indigenous communities to validate and develop their business opportunities. The expert instruction, encouragement and support provided by the faculty allowed each learner to embark on their entrepreneurial journey in a culturally safe and meaningful way. It was an honour to be the Program Manager for NI-ACE and witness firsthand the excitement, pride and commitment that was demonstrated by participants.
-Desirée Barrow, Program Manager, North-Island ACE

Group photo of the NI-ACE program participants
NI-ACE participants and Program Manager, Desirée Barrow, front left, January 10, 2020.

2019-2020 Treaty8-ACE (Fort St. John)

The Treaty8-ACE, developed and delivered in partnership with the Treaty 8 Tribal Association (T8TA) and the Northeast Aboriginal Business Centre, was delivered in early 2020. Graduates from T8TA member Nations in northeastern BC, including Halfway River, Prophet River, Saulteau, Blueberry River, West Moberly and Fort Nelson, completed a program designed to provide the knowledge, skills and experience prospective entrepreneurs need to successfully identify, create and add value to tourism/recreation and service business opportunities.

T8TA has understood the economic benefits of entrepreneurial training for several years. Commissioned economic development plans identified local entrepreneurs as resilient job creators that provide stable economic benefits to the region. Strategies to build capacity to meet labour market demands included aligning future business opportunities with entrepreneurial capacity. The Treaty8-ACE aligned with the strategies and goals of T8TA member Nations: self-reliance and sustainability.

Although participants completed the program in March 2020, the graduation ceremony will not be held until COVID-19 guidelines allow engagement in Indigenous communities.

The ACE program is designed to provide participants with a safe learning environment by establishing a circle of trust within the cohort. The students in the Treaty8-ACE program developed a comradery unlike any previous group of students. In addition to motivating and supporting each other, the group shared many laughs, occasional tears, and in the end came together like a family, establishing life long connections. I’m extremely proud of the dedication and achievements of this talented group of new entrepreneurs.
-Cory Stephens, Treaty8-ACE Program manager

Group photo of the Treaty8 ACE program participants
Treaty8-ACE Opening Day, January 21, 2020

2019-2020 Heiltsuk-ACE (Bella Bella)

From October 2019 to February 2020, the Heiltsuk-ACE program delivered leading business education to the Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella, BC. In partnership with the Heiltsuk Council, the unique program was designed to meet Heiltsuk economic development plans of building capacity and entrepreneurship as a core part of their business strategy.

The Heiltsuk Economic Development Corporation (HEDC) manages the economic and business interests of the Heiltsuk people whose traditional home lies within the ‘Great Bear Rain Forest’. HEDC’s strategy of creating a viable regional economy that serves the interests of the local communities includes the importance of entrepreneurship development, guided by the principle of sustainability. The Heiltsuk-ACE program supported community members to create businesses to tap into tourism and recreation, resource management and fisheries opportunities available in their traditional territory.

Pamela Wilson, owner, Tagila Consulting Services, and program manager of Heiltsuk-ACE, commented on the program’s challenges and success.

The Heiltsuk-ACE program was met with many challenges related to ample funding for the participants. Although this was a fairly significant barrier for many who enrolled we have seen some wonderful success come from the cohort. Students continue to work on their business plans. The ACE model is a fine example of the importance and value of a program that fits culturally within our communities. The model used for mentorship and support has been working and has provided the necessary skills, learning and insights into the passion behind entrepreneurship! If your community has considered partnering for the ACE program do it!
-Pamela Wilson, Heiltsuk-ACE Program manager

Graduates of the Heiltsuk-ACE program pose with their framed credentials
Heiltsuk-ACE graduation February 21, 2020