I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Rocio Zielinski of Sto:lo Community Futures about the great work they are doing help grow Indigenous entrepreneurship in the Fraser Valley.
Enjoy this interview and do subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great interviews and inspiration on Indigenous people starting and growing exciting businesses, and the professionals like Rocio who are helping to fast track their success!
Interview on YouTube Transcribed
Loa: Hello Rocio, welcome to the Indigenous Entrepreneurs Network.
Rocio: Thank you so much! Thank you for inviting me to be part of this.
Loa: It's a pleasure. We've known each other for a number of years and have done some great work together so it's really nice to have this opportunity to get you to share a little bit about you and what Sto:lo Community Futures does to help Indigenous people start and grow businesses in the Fraser Valley.
Rocio: Absolutely, it's a pleasure.
Loa: Why don't you tell us a little bit about your own business journey, what brought you to SCF, and what you and your team do.
Rocio: My Indigenous background is from Mexico and I came to Sto:lo Community Futures (SCF) about 15 years ago. I recently took over as the General Manager which has been an exciting journey for me because my passion has been this organization. Not only in creating the growth of the Indigenous business economy but really changing the lives of so many people.
Rocio: SCF has been around for almost 30 years, a very long time, and we are getting back to the grassroots level of what we do. Our core mandate is in providing business counselling and advice, walking a person through their idea and the dream of going into business for themselves. This includes an intake session, step-by-step guidance and how to get it to become a reality. We also have business training programs and provide a few business loans that can accommodate various types and sizes of businesses.
Loa: What do you look for when a person is speaking to you and interested in starting a business? They express an interest in a particular product or service that they'd like to launch, what do you normally do to help them? What are the steps that an entrepreneur would take when they see you?
Rocio: It's really about having that initial discussion. Everyone is at a different stage in the business journey and the majority of the time someone literally just has a dream. They're at Ground Zero, so we help guide them through how it works and assess the viability of the business idea. It's an important part, so one of the things that we really try to encourage of course is education. Many people have an obstacle or fear thinking "Well, I don't have a business degree or any training." That is not what we're looking for. I would say that 98% of the people that we meet have no business training, in some cases, people don't even have a high school diploma.
Subject to the type of business that a person wants to go into, maybe they do need a ticket or certification and can gain it through a course, if it's a requirement. Higher education like an MBA, is not typically necessary.
We really try to encourage them and this is why we offer training programs providing the tools that help a person to be a stronger entrepreneur. We want to see you succeed, so let's give you the education and the training to do that.
Loa: Absolutely! I can relate, which is why I'm doing the work that I am in business training at different Indigenous communities. I didn't start out with my family coming from a business background nor did I happen to gain a fancy university degree, and I've been in business 20 years now. Running two businesses, in fact. The key is to do something that you're passionate about and of course, there does have to be a need in the market for the business. There are ways that you can figure out how to turn a passion into a commercial business.
Loa: It begins with going to see people like you and Shannon at SCF, taking business training such as the education that I provide, and the B.E.S.T. program is great too. As you mentioned Rocio, it's that fear that holds people back. The fear that maybe "I'm not good enough to be an entrepreneur". That is a complete lie that we tell ourselves.
Loa: You (Rocio) mentioned an incredible business owner that you worked with, Linda Kay Peters who has done incredible things in her business. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with her recently. She has the most amazing story! She didn't realize that she was going to be flying to show her pieces in the Paris Indigenous Fashion Design Show, and all the other great things that have happened to her.
Loa: It's about taking one step at a time and asking people for help that leads to incredible places.
Rocio: Absolutely, Linda is a perfect example as her business started as a hobby. She had a full-time job and was sewing dresses, vests and everything else on the side. As the demand grew for her designs, she realized that the hobby was becoming a business. She needed some funding for cash flow, materials, another sewing machine and to hire seamstresses to help her with inventory having been invited to show her designs at another fashion show. I believe it was in Regina at that time, and we helped her with that.
Rocio: She got out there and that's how she was able to become more known. You might have heard the story, she had someone in the audience that was attending from New York. She was looking for different fashion designers to include in her New York fashion runway show, and Linda was selected to go there. A couple of years later, she went to Paris. She's an example of how a little bit of funding and help with those initial developmental steps can get one started.
Rocio: Another example is AJ Towing. They're a mother and son owned towing company and they've been with SCF for ten years now. We've helped them to develop their business. They needed a truck and a few years after that, two more trucks to allow them to grow. We have many success stories and are sharing them through our social media channels. It's so important to see pictures and videos to show people that their peers are doing it, and they don't necessarily have to have any special education.
Loa: It helps people to understand that "If my friend Joe can do it, so can I!" And, having the support of SCF and other resources that are out there available to Indigenous entrepreneurs. Another funding resource is www.tacc.ca who offers fantastic support.
Rocio: Absolutely, they are partners and friends of SCF. Tale’awtxw Aboriginal Capital Corporation.
Loa: And then there's also the cheerleading aspect. I know you are a major cheerleader for your entrepreneurs!
Rocio: For sure, you know me! And, we have Shannon Smith who is our business analyst, she is incredible. She's out visiting people through our satellite offices at seven of the communities that we serve in the Fraser Valley. Like you were saying, we cheer people on. "You can do it and don't let those obstacles hold you back."
Loa: That's so true, and anytime that somebody is starting a business, going after big goals, or things that you want your life, there's always going to be obstacles that you need to work-around. What would you say is the biggest obstacles are that an Indigenous entrepreneur would face? What would they need to push through and how can they best do that? What would you say if someone wanted to start a business but were afraid of the unknown?
Rocio: That's why we're here, to provide that guidance to walk you (the viewer) through the different avenues or obstacles you may see in front of you, and to be a guide through that journey. Maybe it's a fear of doing something new, and that's scary for anyone. In some cases, timing is a factor. Maybe right now isn't the time for someone, perhaps there needs to be a few more steps to be taken, maybe a bit more training. At the end of the day, we want to see people be successful and are here to ensure they are.
Loa: Getting them to crawl before they start running. Right? Yes, it's the baby steps and they add up faster than you think. I know this is a real passion of yours Rocio. What really gets you excited about getting up and going to work every?
Rocio: You know what? For me, it's changing lives. We've helped people get off of social assistance in some cases. We've helped people to change the lives of their families, to provide employment opportunities for their family members through their businesses, and employment opportunities for their communities.
Rocio: It really is such an important part of what we do and the success of our entrepreneurs is a success for others. Creating that empowerment for them is huge for me, for us, and for our board. It is amazing that our board is so engaged. They're passionate committee members that we bring in through our community empowerment model. There are so many positives and I hope I do it for a very, very, long time.
Loa: I can relate and I suspect that's why you and I get along because we have a similar love of helping people to do what's going to make them happy, and bringing positive change to communities.
Rocio: It's coming from a genuine place and that's what makes the difference. You do awesome at it too, Loa.
Loa: I appreciate that! So what's next for SCF? What's your vision for the next two to five years now that your large and in charge? Ha ha.
Rocio: We've got so many things coming. We just created a partnership with the Women's Enterprise Center and it's going to help us create more opportunities for Indigenous women in business. This is a huge growth area that we want to continue to support. By bringing in this organization we're going to be doing some training programs coming up over the year. We're looking at partnering with the University of the Fraser Valley on basic training over 8 to 12 weeks that provides the different pieces such as: What is a business plan and how do you get financials in order, etc.
Rocio: We are partnering with the communities through our satellite offices. It's us going out into the different communities that have welcomed us to be there. Our territory is from Fort Langley to Hope on both sides of the Fraser River. There are 24 communities in the territory that we serve. We're excited to be right in peoples' own band offices. Our physical offices are in Chilliwack and transportation can be an issue for people sometimes, so going into these areas are more convenient for them, and we find that people are more comfortable in their own community. We're excited to be able to grow and are looking to add more satellite offices and expand our programs.
Rocio: We have a great partnership with New Relationship Trust where they're delivering grant funds so we can provide financing to our entrepreneurs in an equity match program. If someone brings us a bank statement that shows what they have for equity and what they can contribute to meet our loan process and guidelines, then we can match that money as a grant. These are the different things we want to continue to provide, tools and opportunities to help our entrepreneurs be successful.
Loa: That's incredible! It sounds like you'll be affecting a lot of people and hopefully, more people learn about the great work that you're doing and investigate what entrepreneurship could look like for them.
Loa: I know from my own experiences teaching business skills at various Indigenous communities that there is also a big interest from Indigenous youth on what entrepreneurship looks like and could that be a career choice? Have you been seeing that as well?
Rocio: Absolutely, I think that's definitely a sector that we want to look forward to connecting with and engaging and how can we help them, how can we let that seed while still encouraging education for the youth.
Rocio: Definitely, without a doubt. Being an entrepreneur can go hand in hand with education so we want to see how we can potentially go into the high schools, or some of the programs and talk about entrepreneurship as an option for their future.
Loa: That's amazing! Yes, the youth are our future and we're both aware that Indigenous youth are the fastest-growing segment of the population so we've got to help them live their dreams and figure out what they'd like to do. And, show them what how cool entrepreneurship can be!
Rocio: Especially with what you've been doing with the youth at the Squamish Nation. It would be great to bring that training to Stó:lō so that we can encourage our youth. As you mentioned, they are the leaders of the future and we want to be sure that they're also empowered and successful.
Loa: Thank you Rocio, for the insightful and uplifting conversation!
Loa: If you are Indigenous, living in the Fraser Valley and are interested in entrepreneurship, do get in touch with Rocio and Shannon at Stó:lō Community Futures. They are ready and waiting to cheerlead and show you what your next steps could look like.
Loa: Thank you to everyone watching and please hit subscribe to see more videos that like one.