$1M gift expands education program for aspiring Aboriginal entrepreneurs

Peter B. Gustavson School of Business

TRICORP CEO Frank Parnell, left, and Brent Mainprize, ACE program director and Gustavson faculty member, have worked together for more than 18 years on a number of Indigenous economic development initiatives. Credit: UVic Photo Services

Aspiring Indigenous entrepreneurs in Canada will benefit from a $1 million gift from BMO Financial Group to expand the Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs Program (ACE).

Developed in partnership with the Tribal Resources Investment Corporation (TRICORP) and the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business, the ACE program provides culturally appropriate and community-tailored business education in Indigenous communities across BC.

Over a period of 20 weeks, ACE participants engage in classroom learning, mentorship coaching sessions and hands-on entrepreneurial learning exercises, including the development of a business plan for a startup venture. 

To help expand this innovative and international award-winning program throughout BC and to other regions across Canada, BMO Financial Group has committed $1 million to ACE. The first program expansion, slated to start this month, will be entrepreneurial training on Vancouver Island for Indigenous artisans wanting to launch or expand their art-based ventures. Known as ACE Artists, the training for the pilot program is supported by the BMO Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurship Catalyst Fund.

“We greatly appreciate BMO’s support for the ACE program,” says UVic President Jamie Cassels. “The BMO Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurship Catalyst Fund will enable us to expand this program and build on the wonderful collaboration we have with TRICORP. This gift will allow the partnership to bring entrepreneurship courses to more Indigenous communities throughout the country.”

Frank Parnell, CEO of TRICORP, adds: “The ACE program has become, and will continue to be, the key catalyst in forging our economic self-reliance. Our program ensures the participation of Aboriginal people in the economy as business owners.”

BMO’s $1 million gift continues the financial group’s tradition of giving back, says Michael Bonner, senior vice president and regional head for BMO Bank of Montreal.

“BMO has a long history of giving back to our communities, and supporting the Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs Program with customized, in-community entrepreneurship training reflects that ongoing commitment,” says Bonner. “I’m looking forward to seeing the innovations and businesses that will emerge from the expanded ACE program, and the impact the funding will have in supporting Aboriginal entrepreneurship throughout BC.”

The BMO Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurship Catalyst Fund received an initial $250,000 from private donors Tim and Frances Price to support in-community entrepreneurship educational opportunities.

Since ACE’s inaugural class in 2013, more than 275 graduates from 26 Indigenous communities across British Columbia have taken the program, 72 business ventures have been launched, and many more are in the planning stages. In addition to launching entrepreneurial startups, program graduates also go on to further education or secure employment in their business area of interest.

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Media contacts

Dr. Brent Mainprize (Gustavson School of Business) at 250-721-6406 or brentm@uvic.ca

Krista Boehnert (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-6246 (cell) or boehnert@uvic.ca

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In this story

Keywords: Indigenous, business, entrepreneurship, art, funding

People: Frank Parnell, Jamie Cassels, Michael Bonner, Tim Price, Frances Price

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