Meet a Civic Hall Toronto Member: Entrepreneurship Services

Jason Farra

March 29, 2019

Civic Hall Toronto’s government members are always striving to use technology and design to better serve residents. This series introduces readers to our members, and the innovative work they’re doing inside and outside of City Hall.

Pontiac Group co-founder Jonathon Araujo speaking at one of the ICIE community engagement sessions.
Pontiac Group co-founder Jonathon Araujo speaking at one of the ICIE community engagement sessions.

Paul Pirri really likes his job.

“I think we’ve got the best job in any municipality,” says the Acting Manager for the City of Toronto’s Entrepreneurship Services team. “[We get] to work with entrepreneurs who inspire us on a daily basis.”

Paul’s team helps foster a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in Toronto. They do everything from providing business training and mentorship programs to working with local incubators and accelerators.

Recently, they’ve been been focused on how to support the city’s growing Indigenous business community. Although Toronto has the fourth largest Indigenous population in Canada, there is no specific area in the city for Indigenous entrepreneurs to call home and go to for support.

Entrepreneurship Services has been working with Pontiac Group, an Indigenous socioeconomic development firm, to engage local Indigenous communities in creating a new hub and business incubator — the Indigenous Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (ICIE).

“[The ICIE is] where Indigenous entrepreneurs could go and seek help for growing their business and finding resources to help them do that,” said Nina Gesa, an Economic Development Officer with Entrepreneurship Services.

“This is really a unique project in a lot of ways,” Nina said. “[We] went in not knowing very much about what was needed and what Indigenous entrepreneurs were looking for.”

Rather than simply consult with Indigenous communities, Entrepreneurship Services is working hard to truly co-create the ICIE with Indigenous entrepreneurs and other potential Indigenous ICIE users.

Led by Pontiac Group with support from Civic Hall Toronto, Entrepreneurship Services held a series of community engagement sessions last fall, where residents contributed their ideas for the mission and work of the ICIE.

Instead of holding the sessions in the traditional locations used for City of Toronto consultations, they took place in spaces where Indigenous peoples already gather — such as the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre and the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto.

“We really wanted to hear specifically from [Indigenous entrepreneurs] as to what they were searching for,” said Nina. ”What kind of business skills they needed to build, what kind of resources they were looking for, and the kind of training and workshops they would be interested in accessing as part of the ICIE.”

As a result, over half of the consultation participants were Indigenous and one-third were specifically Indigenous entrepreneurs.

A breakout group discussion at one of the community engagement sessions for the ICIE.
A breakout group discussion at one of the community engagement sessions for the ICIE.

To ensure that the ICIE is not only for Indigenous entrepreneurs, but also designed by them, it was crucial to use a participatory form of engagement in these sessions. Thus, the facilitation team took a human-centered, design-driven approach.

Incorporating the principles of human-centered design into their community engagements “helped us build ideas on Indigenous design elements, culture and ideas that should be central to to the space,” Nina said.

Participants expressed their thoughts and ideas to help shape everything from what the ICIE should look and feel like to how it should be governed. They also shared challenges faced by Indigenous entrepreneurs and how the ICIE could help to overcome these barriers.

Paul, Nina and the rest of the Entrepreneurship Services team feel that adopting a collaborative approach from the very beginning of the project has created a strong foundation for the next phase: the development of a business model and governance structure for the ICIE — work that will be led by an Indigenous board of directors.

“[There is a] need for a centre such as this, that is really dedicated to and led by the Indigenous community to serve entrepreneurs,” Nina said.

The ICIE itself is currently under construction and is slated to open by early 2020.

Civic Hall Toronto is a non-profit program that enables government innovators, entrepreneurs, technologists and residents to share, learn and build solutions together. To learn more about membership, events, and other programs, visit civichallto.ca.
Civic Hall Toronto is a non-profit program that enables government innovators, entrepreneurs, technologists and residents to share, learn and build solutions together. To learn more about membership, events, and other programs, visit civichallto.ca.