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This Capilano University program is shaping the Indigenous business leaders of tomorrow

The Indigenous Digital Accelerator builds digital capacity and business acumen
Alissa Assu, Owner of Bear Essential Oils.

In a business world fuelled by ideas, one of the biggest barriers for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs is the ability for those ideas to accelerate and travel beyond local borders.

In this context of getting ideas off the ground and into larger markets, picture the Indigenous Digital Accelerator program as the travel agent that bridges all of those gaps. 

This program offered out of Capilano University advances reconciliation, decolonization, and indigenization by giving students, funders, and partners the tools they need to breathe new life into digital commerce projects across numerous business types throughout B.C. 

Now in its third year, the program acts as a link to attract outside funders who help subsidize the program and its participants – from there, program participants are partnered with mentors and other business professionals in the working world to build up the Indigenous entrepreneurs of tomorrow. 

“Our goal is to nurture digital capacity and to help Indigenous businesses grow beyond their regional coverage,” explains Doreen Manuel, director of the Bosa Centre for Film and Animation and Inclusive Community Projects at Capilano University. “We want them to expand provincially, nationally and hopefully, internationally.

Indigenous women have always played a vital role in building community, using skills and knowledge to sustain both cultures and economies.

At the same time, however, Indigenous women are often excluded from mainstream business opportunities, which leads to a lack of voice and representation in leadership positions. 

This is because women are the family caregivers – for both elders and children – and it’s exceedingly difficult for them to leave their community and give up this responsibility. 

And because most business schools are in cities and towns, leaving their community to attain that education is simply too costly both financially and personally.

The Indigenous Digital Accelerator program, however, is designed to address those long-standing problems.  

“As a residential school survivor myself, I was raised by two residential school survivors, no one taught us how to buy a house or a car, or build a financial portfolio,” Manuel says. “And so the women were learning about finance after the men and under the men. We’re growing our way out of that financial dependency and into independence and that’s a hard step to take.”

June Anthony-Reeves, CEO of Up the Hill at Loakin. Photo supplied by June Anthony-Reeves

Program participants Alissa Assu and June Anthony-Reeves are proof positive of the program’s dynamic and life-changing impacts. 

Anthony-Reeves’ business, Up the Hill at Loakin, has begun to flourish due to the mentorship received as part of the Digital Accelerator Program, which has allowed her to navigate the complex regulatory process of shipping botanicals internationally. 

Meanwhile, Assu is a young entrepreneur and owner of Bear Essential Oils, a sustainable and thriving business built in her own backyard that offers 100 percent organic, ethically sourced and wildcrafted essential oils. 

Through their cultural heritage and technology, these Indigenous women are breaking down barriers, creating meaningful change, and building their successful small businesses in order to contribute to economic growth and their communities.

“Our participants are always part of a family once they join this program,” Manuel says.

For more information on Capilano University’s Indigenous Digital Accelerator, visit