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  • Brendan Griebel

Business Innovation with OCAD University

Updated: May 11, 2021

Kaapittiaq would like to express its profound thanks to Idil Burale, Buffy Childerhose, Ikem Opara, and Eugene Peng for their support of Kaapittiaq through OCAD University's Business Innovation Initiative.

The Business Innovation Initiative (BII) is a joint project of the Business Design and Leading Innovation courses of OCAD University's Strategic Foresight and Innovation graduate program. During the BII OCAD students work in teams and use the tools they have learned in the program to provide high-quality consulting services and address challenges of participating client organizations.

From January to April 2021, we worked with this OCAD University team as a case study for helping to grow our Indigenous business in ways that allow us to be true to Inuit culture and viable in a western business setting. As a social enterprise Kaapittiaq came together organically through the contributions of cultural sector professionals and Inuit Elders with little experience in business or entrepreneurship. We have managed to grow the company into a feasible operation with industry contracts, sales to independent Nunavut retail stores, and an online store. As a foundation for our work with OCAD University, we sought ways that we could expand the company into southern retail stores and wider distribution in a way that upholds the company's original Inuit values, which prioritize the creation of Indigenous jobs and business networks, environmental sustainability, and social impact.

We presented the team with the following challenges:

1.We have no defined operational/quality systems framework for the company. We require assistance in developing and codifying a business framework that can be successfully scaled as we grow larger, and which can be used to ensure the company's sustainability and transferability to new staff. We are interested in thinking in novel ways as to how this framework can accommodate Indigenous values and priorities.

2.We have little sense of the operational/production requirements and costs involved in retailing through storefronts and grocery stores. We need to identify target markets for retail, and assess which stores/industries we have the quantity and price points to sell through. Should additional inventory and higher production be required to get these retail contracts, we need to figure out the cost and feasibility of us meeting this demand.

3.We require a strategy for how to grow an Indigenous focused business network. As a social enterprise, Kaapittiaq has a mission to build and support Indigenous capacity, training and businesses. While we have successfully hired our two first Inuit employees, we face distinct challenges in terms of finding staff and partnering with other Inuit/Indigenous businesses due to limited availability/higher demand of their expertise, higher price points, and less standardized protocols for the production/timing/distribution of these companies' products and services. By almost every indicator, Indigenous businesses are far more vulnerable than non-Indigenous businesses. We are seeking strategies for how we can grow our partnerships with Indigenous business in a safe and sustainable way that can capitalize on every incentive provided to supporting Indigenous businesses.

Stay tuned as Kaapittiaq moves forward to implement the many exciting initiatives developed in partnership with the OCAD University team to address these challenges.

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