Indigenous shopping platform benefits from federal investment

Tuesday, September 12th, 2023 3:49pm


Image Caption

The home page of the Biskane online shopping portal and at right Biskane Inc. owner Chad Solomon.


“It’s huge, because it allows me to hire Indigenous influencers, marketers and a sales team. It’s going to be very, very helpful now.” — Chad Solomon
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Thanks to an investment from the federal government, Chad Solomon’s latest venture now has a significantly better chance to succeed in its infancy.

Solomon, a member of Henvey Inlet First Nation in Ontario, launched his Biskane Inc. last fall.

This online initiative is an Indigenous-focused shopping platform, which assists both retailers and customers in finding authentic Indigenous art and products from baby clothes to food items to pet supplies.

In a press release on Sept. 8, federal officials announced that Biskane is one of two Indigenous-led businesses that have collectively received an investment of $1.6 million.

Solomon received $500,000 for Biskane so that it could hire more people to promote his business to expand its market reach.

eSupply Canada, which is an Indigenous-owned online distributor of office, janitorial and small-scale industrial supplies, received $1.1 million. The funding for eSupply Canada is meant to boost the company’s online e-commerce platform to better serve Indigenous businesses and entrepreneurs across the country.

The funding is provided through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). The goal is to allow Indigenous businesses to prosper while creating new jobs and boosting inclusive economic prosperity.

Solomon said businesses that receive an investment are responsible to return the funding once they are on solid footing and Solomon was pleased for the hand up provided.

“We’re about to do some interesting stuff,” he said. “I finally get to start promoting the business in a healthy way. It’s huge, because it allows me to hire Indigenous influencers, marketers and a sales team. It’s going to be very, very helpful now.”

Solomon said the federal investment has allowed him to hire 10 people to help spread the word of Biskane.

“We’re looking to hire a few more now,” he added.

Solomon said he first heard of the FedDev Ontario investment program back in July of 2021.

“I don’t think too many people know about it,” he said, adding he learned of the program when he was a mentee with the National Research Council Canada, a government agency dedicated to science and technological research development.

Solomon said his initial ask from the federal government was for significantly more than what he ended up getting.

“We originally applied for $2 million,” he said. “You shoot for the stars and then you see how far you jump. We had to scale back our initiative and figure out how to work with the $500,000.”

Solomon worked for three years on the Biskane idea. He travelled extensively with his publishing and entertainment company, Little Spirit Bear Productions, which he continues to operate.

Throughout his travels, Solomon discovered there was a huge problem with ensuring the authenticity of Indigenous art. He heard stories about the copyright of Indigenous artists’ images being stolen and those works reproduced in foreign countries.

Solomon was keen to create a business that helped both retailers and customers know which Indigenous art and products were authentic.

With its funding, eSupply Canada is implementing new digital services to upgrade its customer experience, including tracking of packages.

Funding provided has also allowed eSupply Canada to create eight new jobs.

Steven Vanloffeld, the founder and CEO of eSupply Canada, was obviously pleased to receive the financial assistance.

“Through the support of FedDev Ontario, we can leverage our technology and supply chain to develop a platform that allows Indigenous entrepreneurs to effortlessly start their own e-commerce business, one with national reach and economies of scale to compete with big box retailers,” he said. “With our platform, Indigenous peoples will be better equipped to take full advantage of the government's and industry's commitments to economic reconciliation and supply chain diversity.”

Filomena Tassi, the minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, said the federal investment celebrates the potential for both Biskane and eSupply Canada.

“This support helps them grow and enables them to provide meaningful opportunities for Indigenous communities, entrepreneurs, and artists,” Tassi said in a press statement. “The Government of Canada will continue to work with Indigenous businesses and communities so they can reach their potential and create new possibilities.”

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada