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Chris Idalut and Michael Milton attended the Inspire Nunavut workshops in Pond Inlet. Photo courtesy of Inspire Nunavut.

Inspire Nunavut: An Ottawa startup is supporting entrepreneurship in the High Arctic

By Andrew Monro on February 15, 2017


Andrew Monro is Apt613’s correspondent at Impact Hub Ottawa, writing about the many innovators that call Hub home. Hub is a co-working space at 71 Bank Street for projects with a positive local and global impact.

“If you have an idea, you think it could help people, and have a vision, then try it and start. You could potentially make a positive impact, and that is our hope of what we want to accomplish.”

In October 2014, Ajmal Sataar travelled to Nunavut as part of a conference in Iqaluit, connecting people living in northern Canada with those living in the south. He returned feeling inspired, seeing opportunities for entrepreneurship among the youth in the territory. Sataar decided he would go back and help the young entrepreneurs access the same opportunities he had in business development.

Along with his colleagues, Karine Smith and Sam Thumm, they created Inspire Nunavut, a social entrepreneurship training and business development program for youth in Nunavut. From the beginning, the program has taken a different tack from other business development projects: they are grounded in human-centred design thinking, which has led them to ask a lot of ‘why’ questions and being less prescriptive about how to operate an enterprise. This led the team to talk with young people who didn’t know a lot about business, but emphasised work that fit with the culture and values of the Inuit, which pointed to community-integrated social enterprise.

Using the input they received, the team developed a 6-month experiential and project-based curriculum and framework of youth empowerment, entrepreneurship training, and personal development. The project acted like a makeshift incubator – providing the participants access to computers, the Internet, business resources, and access to a coordinator who would help them work through problems and issues. Inspire Nunavut’s program connects youth with mentors, both in their community, as well as others helping remotely from other parts of Canada.

If you have an idea, you think it could help people, and have a vision, then try it and start. You could potentially make a positive impact, and that is our hope of what we want to accomplish.

Inspire Nunavut is hoping to become a catalyst for entrepreneurship through the formation of advisory boards in several communities.

Not everyone was supportive initially. “A lot of people thought we were going to fail,” Ajmal noted. “They thought we didn’t know what we were doing, and we were not expected to make as much progress as we did.” By the end of the pilot period with the 22 participants, 15 new businesses were created, two participants ended up going back to school, and five found gainful employment. This might not sound like a lot but this translates into a 95% success rate for group – unprecedented for a program of this kind in Nunavut, and high for a program anywhere in Canada.

The success of their initial pilot has led to the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Family Services funding further work by the organization, and in 2017 will see Inspire Nunavut visiting the communities of Igloolik, Baker Lake, and Arviat.

“We are grateful for the support of [The Department of Family Services]. They understood how difficult it is to set up programs like Inspire Nunavut, and were supportive of our new approach to empowerment and development,” says Ajmal.

In the future, Inspire Nunavut hopes to design a program product that can be brought to more remote communities. They are interested in hearing from potential partners who would be willing to help them bring their work to other communities, as well as potential funders to help them expand.