Meet the Makers is a series of interviews to help you get to know the people who are building our community. Ashely is our new Operations Assistant.

Why did you join Yukonstruct?

I joined Yukonstruct because there is so much opportunity! I love learning and trying new things, so having the opportunity to do that while working as an operations assistant feels perfect for me.

What do you like to make?

I love making jam and friends. I like making mitts, slippers, and jewelry when I have the patience for it! It is so rewarding to work with fur and leather but it isn’t always the easiest.

What do you want to build at Yukonstruct?

I’m interested in the metal shop! I’ve never tried working with metal before and I’d love to learn how. I think it would be so cool to make an ulu, just like my Ittuq (grandfather) used to. I have a few uluit that he made for my anaana (mother), and she gave them to me as a gift a few years ago.

What inspires you?

My culture inspires me most. I try to incorporate Inuit values in my art and ways of doing, which makes it even more fun to share with others.

What do you like the most in the space? Why?

I love the wide range of makers, entrepreneurs, and handypersons! Having these skills in a concentrated space allows for so much creativity so I’m looking forward to getting to know the folks that create this ambitious environment.

Startup Bootcamp Called: Women Answered

Yukonstruct welcomed their newest Startup Bootcamp cohort with a live streamed event at NorthLight Innovation that combined both in-person introductions (at a safe distance apart) and zoom-in attendees. The event was the first opportunity for the participants in this fall’s cohort to meet one another and for the public to get their first glimpse of the businesses they may soon get to experience themselves.  

A third cohort driven by women with IMPACT

10 businesses will take part in our third Startup Bootcamp to date. Among the things that make this cohort stand out from previous Bootcamps is how well it reflects the realities of entrepreneurship in the Yukon. Of the 12 founders enrolled in the program, 11 are women. In the Yukon, 43.7% of businesses are owned by women, while nationwide that number shrinks to just 16%.  Another exciting direction this cohort has taken is the nature of the businesses being explored are almost all experiential businesses that will directly impact the community. Think experiential bakeries, an antique shop, a Play Emporium, just to name a few.  These are businesses that will bring happy outings and experiences to the community. 

Now more than ever, work-life balance is important. The Startup Bootcamp program puts the individual behind the business first.

Each program is designed to meet the needs of its current cohort, so while everyone walks away with the same knowledge, they are delivered in a manner that best suits the unique requirements of the participants. Using a combination of theory, practice, and guest speakers, the program imparts fundamental knowledge to building a successful business. Each participant will be equipped with a thorough understanding of topics such as:

  • Customer Discovery
  • Sales Fundamentals
  • Marketing
  • How to Develop your Team and Talent
  • Attracting and Securing Capital and Financing

Though there is much substantive ground covered in the program, what Yukonstruct is most proud of is the holistic approach they take in ushering these budding entrepreneurs into careers with a healthy, balanced mindset. By connecting the founders with professional coaches and mentors, the participants get the benefit of the acquired wisdom from experienced entrepreneurs and the emotional support required to handle the ups and downs inherent to starting your own business. Access to professional and life coaches and experienced mentors is one of the pillars of the Bootcamp. 

Yukonstruct’s in-house facilitator of the Startup Bootcamp, William Lechuga, shares his excitement about this approach, “I think something really special about the Bootcamp this fall is that we are offering coaching for this cohort, and that is a tremendous perk, but more importantly it speaks to our values to humanize businesses and to care for the person behind the business. I think Yukoners, and Canadians overall, will be happy to hear our program has embedded coaching to ensure the people who are changing the landscape of our communities with their businesses are being set up for professional and personal success.”

The Bootcamp started as a combination of in-person and online classes but has temporarily moved to an exclusively online program. This is the third Bootcamp to run since the program was introduced one year ago. A total of 16 companies have now graduated and the current cohort is slated to graduate this winter. With all the inspiring success stories already piling up, demand for the Bootcamp continues to grow. The success of this program can be seen in the growth in alumni businesses like Grandma Treesaw’s Yukon Bannock, Cold Acre Food Systems, YukonGrow, DiscoVelo, Two Mile Asset Management, and YZED projects.

The next iteration of the Startup Bootcamp will begin in March 2021. With a focus on STEM companies, you can expect to see a lot of buzz around the ideas being explored in that cohort. Registration will open late November 2020. 

Startup Canada’s 2020 Canadian Export Challenge

Startup Canada’s 2020 Canadian Export Challenge (CXC) is fast approaching, with regional pitch competitions running from September 14th to 21st.
Despite pivoting to a fully digital event series due to COVID-19, our team has been working hard to make #CXC2020 the best Canadian Export Challenge yet. With an exciting program agenda including presentations by leading experts in global entrepreneurship, the virtual growth lounge and our star-studded panels, there is something for everyone at this year’s CXC. Want to know more about the Canadian Export Challenge’s expert guests and further resources to help you on your journey to becoming a global entrepreneur? Look no further!

Welcoming new members to the Yukonstruct board

On July 22, many Yukonstruct members joined the board for the organization’s annual general meeting. The AGM was a success, and we’d like to take a moment to thank and acknowledge our outgoing board members, and welcome a few new members!


The Yukonstruct team would like to give special thanks to outgoing President, Glenn Piwowar (though he promises not to be a stranger! You’ll see him in Makespace and at Repair Café). Glenn has served the organization for many years as a board member, and has been an integral part of the Yukonstruct community since it first began. We’re so grateful for the guidance, time and passion Glenn has dedicated to the organization.


We’d also like to thank and acknowledge outgoing board members Chris O’Brien, who previously has served as both President and Secretary for the organization, and Maxim Naylor. Both Chris and Maxim brought strong guidance, humor and dedication to the startup community to our board, and we are so grateful for their contributions.

Members voted on four open seats, and 7 candidates put forward their names. We are SO excited to welcome three new board members: Antoinette GreenOliph, Erin Holm, Vernon Asp, and re-elected member Barrett Horne. 


You can read the full bios of all board members here. Antoinette brings many years of experience as a restaurateur and is well known for her love and support of the Whitehorse community. Vernon is an incredible artist, educator and mentor to many. He is currently involved with the Makespace community, and works out of one of the studio spaces. Erin has been a proud Makespace member since the day she moved to the Yukon, and currently produces her Den Designs in the woodshop. Each of these new members bring a strong depth of experience as entrepreneurs and community leaders, and we are honoured and thrilled to have them on our board.


Please join us in giving Antoinette, Vernon and Erin warm welcomes! And of course, huge thanks to the members continuing to serve: Stephanie Hawkins, Selene Vakharia, Barrett Horne, Antonio Zedda, Bob Shap, and Kathie Szpajcher. Yukonstruct’s new executive:

  • President: Stephanie Hawkins
  • Vice President: Selene Vakharia
  • Treasurer: Kathie Szpajcher
  • Secretary: Barrett Horne


Grandma Treesaw’s Yukon Bannock is getting prepared for the U.S. North West market!

2020 YUKONSTRUCT BOOTCAMP KICKOFF – Photo by Alistair Maitland Photography

Teresa Ward, owner of Grandma Treesaw’s Yukon Bannock and recent graduate of Yukonstruct Startup Bootcamp, has been invited by the Trade Commissioner Service’s British Columbia-Yukon office and Seattle office to participate in a pilot project.

Teresa is the only participant from the Yukon, along with 5 other indigenous-owned companies from British Columbia.

This is a pilot project with room for only 6 indigenous-owned small companies that are in food, beverages or consumer goods, with enough ability to produce and motivation to actively get prepared for the U.S. North West market.

This pilot-program will support the participants with a range of export services in order to establish goals and objectives for Washington State market entry, organize meetings with retailers, develop appropriate marketing material and set up an e-commerce avenue for Canadian companies to sustain follow-up sales in Washington State and Oregon.

Teresa is of the Crow Clan, born and raised with Tlingit traditions. She produces and distributes bannock mix throughout many Yukon retailers.

Teresa graduated from Yukonstruct Startup Bootcamp last spring and continues to be supported by the Yukonstruct team since then. Yukonstruct Startup Bootcamp is an intensive 3-month program for early-stage entrepreneurs to develop and validate their business idea. The next cohort will start in September, Yukon startups and entrepreneurs have until August 21st to apply. This program is funded by the Government of Yukon – department of Economic Development and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.

Meet the Team: Josephine

Meet the Makers is a series of interviews to help you get to know the people who are building our community. Josephine is our new Events Coordinator.

 Why did you join Yukonstruct?

My desire to join Yukonstruct was as a result of Yukonstructs’ vision to empower Yukoners to bring their ideas to life in a creative and innovative way. Giving back and community development is a significant part of my personal values and career. I was excited that an organization values the community as much as I do. It was an opportunity for me to contribute to an exciting, fast-moving organization.

What do you like most about Yukonstruct (Cospace /Makespace / Launchspace) being up and running?

I love the fact that creativity innovation and ideas all meet at one place. Yukonstruct to me, is like the thumb you can’t make a knot without it. We don’t just provide you a space to work but also provide support for your business development when you need one!

Why should people become Yukonstruct members?

Even if you are not creative, being in the company of creative minds makes you one. You will not know how creative you are until you walk into our makespace. You will be amazed at the ideas that will run through your mind.

What do you like to make?

I love to bake bread and pie. I am not a pro yet but something good enough to make you ask for more. 

What do you want to build at Yukonstruct?

I want to make a matching shirt for my husband and son.

What inspires you?

Learning new things. The more makers I meet, the more I want to build something and the more confident I get looking at the resources (both human and equipment) available.

What do you like the most in the space? Why?

The entire community that comes with the space. It’s a great feeling knowing that when I need support in making/building something and I get stuck as a beginner,  there will always be someone to give me a hand.

Checking In On Firebean Coffee Roasters

Local entrepreneurs and business owners are having a unique experience during this unprecedented time of COVID 19. Many of them have responded in fascinating and inspiring ways; applying the grit, creativity and courage inherent in starting your own business. We believe there is great value in seeing this through their lens.

In our Checking In On series, we will share their experiences of running a business under circumstances they likely never imagined, hopefully provide some inspiration, and an opportunity to feel connected to some of the people who make this community special.

Our first entrepreneur is Mike Russo of Firebean Coffee Roasters:

How are you adapting your business to the new way of doing things?

Online, online, online.

We have had to shift how we connect with our customer base.  Although some of our wholesale partners are intact, tourism and gift shop traffic has been significantly impacted. That being said, our local customer and their needs/wants haven’t gone anywhere, so we’ve adjusted how we get our product to them.

We’ve gone online in a bigger way than ever and reduced barriers to safely getting Firebean with discount codes and free contact-less delivery. We’ve been spending a lot of time learning how to deliver a comfortable online purchase experience, the universe of SEO and its impact on website and online behaviour. Facebook ads too!

Conversion rates, web copy, abandoned carts – all of it – is a work in progress. In a funny way, COVID has rattled up our model for the better. . . we have always wanted to up our online game a bit and this has pushed us to do so rapidly.

What, if anything, will you keep from your new approach once the social distancing measures have been lifted?

The e-commerce component of our business is here for good. Whether we like it or not, our customer base is shopping online. We will continue to develop how we connect and serve our customer with an online model, post COVID 19.

The free, contact-less delivery has also been pretty smooth. People peek out from behind doors, pop-up over fences, and show up in windows with a wave. That can be kind of exciting during this “distancing”.

Also, I have 3 kids at home under 7 so a 1 hour solo delivery session is a dream sometimes lol! (editor’s note: that does sound dreamy, let me know if you need an assistant).

I will continue to learn about e-commerce and offering delivery, if the market says they want it, of course.

What new observations have you gleaned about your business, customers, or community as a result of this situation?

One observation is you can see how sensitive our connection to one another is – how much our connections matter! When one takes a hit, it trickles down and hurts everyone, when one succeeds; it helps others.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Whitehorse, and its people, are awesome! Super supportive of local businesses, especially in times like these. There seems to be a stronger sense of community than ever before. People are donating, liking and sharing posts, propping people up, making lists of services being offered, having contests, offering discounts etc…  People popping out of the wood-work to lend a hand and inspiring me to personally do the same! In fact, as a way to give back, we are offering 10% of sales on select sizes to the food bank!

How can Yukoners continue to support you?

Offering feedback on what they want, what they like, what they don’t. Liking posts, sharing posts, purchasing coffee. Buying anything local!

Thanks so much, Mike! We really appreciate how quickly you were able to pivot and problem solve during a stressful time, and not just because we still get to drink your coffee, but because it is really inspiring to see.

If you are a member of NorthLight, checkout our Cospace and Makespace Facebook groups for a little treat :).


Spotlight on Rivers to Ridges

We got to sit down with Erin Nicolardi of Rivers to Ridges, to hear the inspiring story of how Erin and her business partner, Emily Payne, created a space for young people to learn on the land. They are doing important and humbling work and we are grateful to get to share a little bit about the incredible contributions they are making to the Yukon.

Tell me about Rivers to Ridges

Rivers to Ridges is a social enterprise focused on empowering a diverse range of northerners to develop meaningful connections to the land. Right now, we are focused on programs for children and youth (3 – 18-year olds), and we’re moving into many age ranges as we grow. All our work centers around supporting young people in connecting to the land with our core values as empathy, awareness and community.

We’ve also expanded the scope of our work to include developing curriculum and educator training opportunities for people who work with young people. So, we’re continuing to grow as we uncover the needs of the communities we are serving.

Can you tell me a bit about the work you do to support people who work with youth?

We design outdoor and land-based education for youth workers, recreation programmers, and teachers and then train them on how to apply it to their classes. We also support existing programs by providing things like staff training or creating customized programs. For instance, we work with organizations like Yukon College to redevelop courses they are offering to bring in more of a land-based approach for folks that are in, for example, early childhood education.

What sort of land-based curriculum are you offering and how are you getting it into schools?

We developed a resource all about Yukon salmon that’s connected to the new BC curriculum. We’ve been working on the Salmon in the Schools Curriculum for three years – piloting it, visiting schools to see what works/ what doesn’t, getting input from educators, reviewing it with Elders and indigenous consultants, and we’ve finally just launched it. We recently trained a bunch of educators from across the Yukon with the resource and will provide the support they need to run it in their classrooms and communities.

We’re also designing a curriculum to revitalise the Caribou in the Schools program, which highlights the importance of  the Southern Lakes Caribou. The aim is to support  teachers to engage their students in understanding and respecting Southern Lakes Caribou through experiential education on the land.

Recently, we have been contracted to develop educational curriculum and resources for BC Parks. With the help of our larger team, we are redesigning a province-wide program for children and writing educational booklets that are in all curriculum connected for distribution across BC.

Encouraging and supporting educators to localize the content by bringing in local Elders and Knowledge Holders is one of the main reasons why we’ve started exploring curriculum design. Once there’s a resource available, educators can tailor the program to meet the specific cultural needs of each community.

How did Rivers to Ridges come about?

In 2014, I had been invited to come see what the Yukon was like by a friend who I did an outdoor experiential teaching program with at Queen’s University. I got a contract working with her partner, who is a teacher at the Wood Street School – an outdoor experiential high school program for Yukon kids. My first trip with the school was a hike. I had never hiked before, I had brand new hiking boots – which was awful –  and all the wrong gear. On the trip, there was a chaperone who looked like they really knew what they were doing, which was super intimidating for me. It turned out to be Emily, and she took care of me for the whole trip. She made it so I could sleep warmly, and helped coach me through blisters and pain and leaving my family – which was emotional for me at the time.

A few months later, Emily got stuck on another Wood Street trip and needed support, so I went to rescue her. We ended up getting snowed in in Watson Lake which gave us an opportunity to talk about our backgrounds and what we wanted to do with our lives.

We discovered that we both wanted to create more outdoor learning options for young children in Yukon communities that weren’t focussed on hardcore physical pursuits, but more on empathy, awareness and community. We wanted to develop outdoor programming that encouraged and supported soft skills like self awareness, connection to the land, supporting identity, leadership and curiosity. It is also important to us that we honour the Indigenous heritage of the land – being that we’re both settlers here – by forming meaningful partnerships and relationships with First Nations. So, when we realized these values were in common, we knew we were going to work together. In 2015, the City of Whitehorse hired us as contractors to test out a Saturday program. We ran that program from September to June with a group of kids – which was a huge undertaking given that we were both also employed full time – but we wanted to see if it would work.  Those Saturday programs grew into family programs, camp programs (which we’re in our 5th year of now) and being invited to different communities to share our resources with people who are working with young people and want to do more outside.

It sounds like there is a lot of passion driving what you and Emily do. Can you talk a bit about the passion behind your work?

At the heart of it, it’s being present with kids, and connecting with them on the land. It’s extremely motivating to be with young people when they’re having these big moments or pushing through with a skill that’s been difficult for them to develop. It is also very affirming when they come back as youth leaders to share what they’ve learned with the younger kids. To see that the work is meaningful for the young people that we serve and to know we have been able to form meaningful relationships with several First Nations feels good. Elders want to come back and work with our programs and that means, to me, that what we are offering is valuable and serving needs that are important to the community, so that is really motivating too.

Those are some external things that inform our passions that we are seeing over time. When we were just starting out, it was really driven by a deep-seated feeling that children deserve to spend time meaningfully on the land. That doesn’t always happen in an age where technology has grown so much, and feeling like we can contribute something to support a balanced life for kids has always felt important.

So, how has NorthLight helped along the way?

When Emily and I were first testing out Rivers to Ridges programs and trying to figure out how to make it our full-time job, we became members of Cospace so we could devote 2 to 3 days a week working on it. From there we met tons of people who were excited about our project and who connected us to small contracts, mentors and new ideas. A fellow Cospace member, Patti Balsillie, told us about the Arctic Inspiration Prize, which we then applied to and were successful in receiving $100,000 towards the Nest Forest School. And that prize launched not just the preschool, but a whole bunch of connections that continue to this day. It also provided us with seed money to float us through some contracts that may not have otherwise been easy for us to take on as a small, two person part-time team.  We met Dennis Zimmerman through Cospace and have been working with him on the Salmon Curriculum for years.  Yeah, from there everything has grown.

Through connections made at Cospace, we met the people who would guide us through all the market research we needed to do, mentors in the community, and the people who would eventually help us incorporate. We were fortunate to be a part of one of the first (co)lab cohorts in 2017 (previous version of Launchspace), where we got the mentorship support and resources to take our ideas to the next level.

Now we have office space in the new NorthLight building, which has been huge to have a place to leave our things, be united on what we’re doing, and to welcome a new staff member Rosalind! So much has happened since starting as a little part time experiment at the old Cospace.

I bet you know about a ton of interesting books; can you recommend any?

Balanced and Barefooted” by Angela J. Hanscom is about supporting unstructured free play for young people and why that is different than adult initiated play and how important it is for kids to spend time on uneven surfaces, not dangerous but not completely safe environments.

Emily suggests “The Overstory” by Richard Powers, which she describes as interwoven stories that also merge into connection with trees in a poetic way. It sounds really beautiful.

Two of our favourite books to read with the children, are “The Other Way to Listen” and “Everyone Needs a Rock” by Bird Baylor. They are incredibly powerful books – really beautiful and deep, or just lovely depending on what level you’re reading them at.

Embers” by Richard Wagamese is a book that Rosalind carries around with her. It is little meditations that this man captured in his writing over a lifetime of morning meditation and they are very beautiful.

Summer camp registration for ages 5 to 13

We have an incredibly talented  team of returning staff who are super keen to share their joy with children through camp.

All Summer  programs currently run out of the Grey Mountain Primary School forest and back to the Hidden Lakes. The details are online and registration opens on Friday, February 28th at 9:00 AM.

The camps are grouped into age ranges and the groups also intermingle with each other. Often, the older kids will join the younger groups to take on leadership roles. For the older children there’s more skill-based learning and the younger children are focused on exploratory play and sensory awareness. We are outside everyday all day. And with the support of Yukon Energy, we continue to bring in Elders and Knowledge Holders that support sharing their cultural knowledge.

In order to break down financial barriers for people who want to attend the camp but have limited access, we have the Strong Roots Bursary Fund which is funded partially by our revenues and partially by community donations. We invite families to apply for our 2020 Bursary. Last year we were proud to welcome 6 participants who were supported by our bursary! We are looking forward to our biggest and most exciting camp season out in the forest yet!


10 Ways a Pre Accelerator Will Put Your Business on the Right Path

You have an idea for a startup and you want to know if it is going to set you on the path to successful entrepreneurship. You believe in the idea and you know there’s work to be done to prove its validity. But you want to be sure the work you are doing is right.

A Bootcamp program is designed to take your idea to the next level by guiding you through the next steps, so you can execute them with confidence. It’s the next move for many startups for a reason, well 10. . .

Here are the top 10 things you will get from a good pre-accelerator, or bootcamp, program:

1) Clarify that your idea can be a successful business

A bootcamp is a crash course in identifying if your idea can become a tangible business. The program identifies and tests the elements of your startup that will work and helps you refine the components that require some attention.

2) Connect to a supportive community and knowledgeable network

Joining a bootcamp program early in your journey will connect you to a cohort of people who can empathize with your experience, supportive facilitators who are invested in your business, and a network of experienced and skilled mentors with wisdom to pass on to you. Having social and emotional support in place at this juncture can make all the difference in how likely you are to see your idea through.

3) Lay the foundation that success is built on 

A Bootcamp clears your mind of the mental barriers keeping you from tackling the nitty gritty of a solid foundation to build on.  This is the space where things get done. Your elevator pitch, customer discovery, defining your sales cycle, customer acquisition, you’ll roll up your sleeves and get it done so that when your business or market require you to be agile and flexible, you can be -without breaking.  

4) Achieve more clarity than you thought was possible

As the saying goes “You don’t know what you don’t know”.  Bootcamp programs provide you with the environment to identify, test, and reiterate. You action the concepts you are learning in real time, allowing you to discover the nuances of your target market, the specifics of your sales funnel, and where you need to pivot. Ultimately, you gain a depth of understanding only experience can provide.

5) Grow your network

A bootcamp offers immediate access to mentors, investors and advisors. It gives you a head-start and teaches you how to expand your network as you grow and your business needs change..

6) Optimize your approach to work

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. A bootcamp program will help to develop and hone your skills, identify undiscovered strengths, and support you in finding efficient ways to manage the challenging elements of your business. You will graduate from a bootcamp understanding the critical skills that will influence your success and where to seek outside support.

7) Manage Risks

Identifying the potential risks and vulnerabilities of your business is imperative to having a reliable contingency plan. Bootcamp programs prepare you to pivot, reassess, and carry on, mitigating damage to your business.

8) Set long-term objectives

One foot in front of the other can be a great survival tactic but a long-term plan is essential to keeping you on track and motivated.  This can be easier said than done, so having access to experienced mentors and facilitators can be a total game-changer. They have the experience and knowledge to predict what is going to set you on the path to success and what may hinder your growth or sustainability.

9) Stay motivated

Having a supportive community is essential to your mental health. But did you know it also keeps you motivated? Not only are you exposed to a steady supply of empathy, but you also get to see first hand the successes and fallbacks of your cohort. You get to learn from them and share the insights and lessons you’re picking up along the way. You’re teaching as much as you are learning, and that makes for a special experience.

10) Continued support post-program

The goal of an accelerator is to see you and your company succeed and that doesn’t happen in 12-short weeks. After you graduate from the program, you continue to have access to support with check-ins, invitations to programs and resources that are a fit with your business, and introductions to funders and investors. In short, by joining a pre-accelerator, you become a part of a broader community that is invested in seeing you thrive.


If you are interested in learning more about what a Bootcamp can do for you, book a free consultation to speak with one of our facilitators!