NAABA, Startup YMM partner on mentorship program for entrepreneurs

The Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association (NAABA) and Startup YMM are launching a pilot mentorship program for local entrepreneurs.Michelle Toner, executive director of NAABA, said the program will help support long-term, sustainable businesses and give small businesses chances to network.

“Business is so multifaceted and has so many different components,” said Michelle Toner, executive director of NAABA. “We really have a vast array of experiences and skills so people are getting a wholesome mentoring opportunity.”

The pilot program is based on a mentoring model developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Natasha Hartson, Startup YMM’s entrepreneurship and innovation director, said the pilot will be an opportunity to learn and adjust to what the community needs from the mentorship.

“In the current state of the community and the loss we’ve been through, there’s a lot of stress and anxiety around being a small business owner in this region,” said Hartson. “Mentorship will help our entrepreneurs make it through some the next big challenges they’re going to be faced with as we recover from the pandemic.”Toner said mentorship is an inherent practice for many Indigenous businesses NAABA works with. More established businesses often provide mentorship and advice to younger entrepreneurs. With this structured pilot program, mentorship from established businesses can become accessible to local entrepreneurs.

“Many of our mentors are those people that have gone forward and cut down the trees to make the path to entrepreneurship,” said Toner. “It’s about having somebody help you navigate waters that have already been chartered.”

The pilot program is accepting eight to 10 mentees. NAABA and Startup YMM are looking for people already with an idea for a local business, are willing to receive constructive criticism and have a particular area of their business they hope to work on.

The mentees can remain with the program as long as needed. Applications are open until May 5.

“This is an opportunity to help the new up and coming folks who are coming in to fill some gaps we are now faced with,” said Hartson. “We have, unfortunately, seen some businesses close but this program can help a lot of businesses move forward.”