Start-up Program Helps Entrepreneurs Take their Ideas to the Next Level

Westbank First Nation

Four entrepreneurs sitting in a panel at the front of a room

Westbank First Nation is home to over 400 businesses and has grown by 30% since 2014. An entrepreneurial spirit within the community made a partnership between Accelerate Okanagan and Westbank First Nation a natural fit. Together, they delivered the Startup Basics program to aspiring entrepreneurs in the fall of 2017.

“Finding opportunities where we can connect and share ideas – this creates knowledge,” said Tom Konek, councillor with Westbank First Nation. “When we come together with organizations like Accelerate Okanagan and use our resources more efficiently, we can work better as a whole and grow more sustainably.”

The Start-Up Basics Program

The Start-Up Basics program provides early-stage entrepreneurs with the tools and resources needed to bring their idea to the next stage. Sessions are presented by Accelerate Okanagan staff, mentors, partners and alumni. The program is designed to support entrepreneurs with mentorship and coaching, training courses, and peer-to-peer engagement. Topics vary from week to week and participants can attend as many sessions of the seven-week course as they choose.

Accelerate Okanagan collaborated with Westbank First Nation to deliver the program within the community at the Westbank First Nation Youth Centre. Westbank First Nation helped to promote the seven sessions within Westbank and neighbouring Indigenous communities and more than 100 people participated.

“Entrepreneurship can often seem daunting or intimidating to those first starting out,” said Jenna Stasuk, program co-ordinator at Accelerate Okanagan. “Collaborating with the Westbank First Nation team to bring this program to West Kelowna was an incredible opportunity to support what is already a very entrepreneurial region of our community.”


One of the first sessions featured local entrepreneurs, including two First Nation business owners who operate their business within the Westbank community. Hearing from local entrepreneurs was inspirational for participants, who may have known the entrepreneurs but weren’t aware of the struggles and lessons learned as they launched their businesses. For Taryn Gerow, employment co-ordinator with Westbank First Nation, hearing from community members who had built a successful business was very encouraging. Participants could connect with the stories on a personal level and think “that could be me.”

“Everyone has ideas but it is putting these ideas to work that is the challenge,” said Cathy McKay, program participant. “The Startup Basics sessions not only helped my partner and I flesh out ideas by outlining tools for research and development, it left us feeling confident that we could really do it.” 

Entrepreneurs who signed up for the full program started to build their own peer network to discuss their ideas and support each other through challenges as an added benefit of the program.

“Each session has something valuable and the community of people I was connected with is amazing,” said Sandra Ortega, program participant. “People I only just met are trying to help me – just ready to pitch in.”

Front entrance to the Westbank First Nation Youth Centre

Hosting the program at the Westbank First Nation Youth Centre on Westbank First Nation land was a welcome change for participants who often have to travel outside the community for similar programs. It also offered an opportunity for participants from other Indigenous communities to see some of the services provided within Westbank First Nation.

Lessons Learned 

One lesson the organizers learned is the importance of taking extra steps to promote the program within the community. Entrepreneurs can be hesitant to admit they have encountered challenges with their business. Making a personal connection to help entrepreneurs feel comfortable accessing supports for their business can encourage them to check it out.

April 25, 2018