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.

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!

 

Spotlight on DiscoVelo

Hi Scott, can you tell me about DiscoVelo?

DiscoVelo is a software company founded in 2019 on the belief that mental and emotional wellness are tightly connected to physical activity. Exercise is obviously key to physical well-being, but the brain science research says that many common mental health challenges, like those related to anxiety and depression, are also most effectively addressed by increasing our heart rate. So, we’re developing software that will connect to standard fitness equipment to activate the powerful benefits of combining physical and mental activity. Our software will engage the user through an interactive digital interface with content that is powered by the pedalling of the stationary bike. Think ‘serious’ games that you ‘play’ by exercising. We are incorporating emerging brain science, principles of self-regulation, and the power of interactive digital media to help users unlock the potential of their brains and to improve physical and mental wellness along the way.

What is your vision for SpinReg?

Our product will initially be developed for student use in classrooms, connected to stationary bikes. This may seem like an odd combination, but we have a partnership with an organization called Run for Life. Through their program Sparks Fly, they have been placing stationary bikes in classrooms since 2012. The program has been incredibly successful in providing a classroom management tool for teachers and in helping students to regulate their energy and focus their attention through moving their bodies. In response to teachers’ requests, our initial product development goal is to amplify the value of those bikes and to encourage more students to use them by fitting them with fun and creative interactive digital media.

The long-term vision of DiscoVelo is expanding the platform to all kinds of fitness equipment across a range of user groups and settings. And since it isn’t just children who are struggling to fulfill their potential, we plan to reach beyond classrooms into corporate wellness programs. The World Health Organization quantified in 2018 a trillion dollars globally in lost productivity because of stress and anxiety in the workplace. Another report identified that for every dollar employers put into corporate wellness programs, they can get back on average $1.62 in productivity. So, employers and researchers are really starting to see the value in corporate wellness initiatives and mental health supports in the workplace. What we are developing is a great fit for those initiatives. We truly believe that the premise has the potential to scale beyond the classroom, with potential in physical rehabilitation, trauma recovery, and therapeutic applications.

Tell me about the passion that drives you and your partners to build this company?

My business partners and I share values around healthy living, having fun and making an impact – we really want to move the needle on something meaningful to all of us. So, the passion for us is in making an impact and seeing change in areas where we recognise there are problems. Developing something that will make it easier for people to take good care of themselves is important to us, and underpins our purpose. Providing a tool that will encourage a healthy mindset is something that is tangible for me. I have experienced workplace anxiety and through that, was fortunate enough to learn what a powerful tool exercise can be in managing stress, and in understanding the significance of the brain/body connection.

With DiscoVelo, we want to put all that research and good science to work to help people. We see teachers struggling in the classrooms, children getting less and less physical activity and the physical, mental, and emotional fallout from that. We see people battling stressful workplaces, and we believe we have something here that can make a difference. So, yeah, making an impact on that front is something we are really passionate about.

 So, how did DiscoVelo come about?

John Carson, a friend and now business partner, is also a fantastic massage therapist – which is how we met. During our sessions, he would tell me about the work he was doing with the Sparks Fly program and how successful it was at giving students a tool for managing their energy. They have placed more than 6,000 stationary bikes in classrooms across Canada, and continue to grow, with more than 100 bikes here in Yukon as well. Though teachers are very happy with the difference the bikes are making in their classrooms, many of them have indicated that some students who could really benefit from the bikes need something to compel them to use them – some kind of activity with a beginning, a middle, and an end that would draw them in and keep them there. John was hesitant to introduce another screen into children’s lives, but over time, with so many teachers asking for something like this, it became clear that developing a way to engage those reluctant students was going to increase the value of having the bikes in the classroom.

Just as he was arriving at this conclusion, I was looking for a different way to apply myself professionally. I had just left a consulting office and got a Yukonstruct hotdesk membership – I knew that the people who were making their ideas happen were concentrated at Yukonstruct. I had several friends who were Cospace members from way back, and I knew that amazing things were happening there. I was ready for a new challenge in my life and was focused on contributing to something that would have an impact. I didn’t know what that was going to be; however, I had a feeling that this was the place where I was going to find it – and that’s exactly what happened.

Through a series of meetings and discussions I had with people in the space, and after bringing John into the dialogue, we both realised, ”Hey, I think there might be something here!” The time was right, and the support networks were in place, so we had a glass of wine and decided to kick it off. It’s safe to say that we definitely would not be doing this right now if it weren’t for Yukonstruct.

Awesome! So, beyond existing as a place for people to meet and collaborate, how has Yukonstruct empowered you to take those initial ideas and conversations to the next level?

Cospace was instrumental to our origin story by introducing us to the community that we needed to be connected to. By the nature of the space, some of the connections were intentional and some were just serendipitous. But the seed for DiscoVelo was planted and germinated in Cospace.

Then we moved over to Launchspace with the inaugural Launchspace Startup Bootcamp pre-accelerator program where we spent 12 weeks validating our ideas and putting all the pieces in place to get our idea on solid footing.  We had an idea and immediately started asking ourselves, “so what do we do with this?” Even before the Bootcamp, the Launchspace staff were helping us put our vision together. They gave us a sense of what we needed to do to actually advance this idea: build a business around it, develop a product, find the fit with your customers, structure the company, get financing, take a product to market, and scale it up to the point where it’s going to create the value investors are going to want to see. All those concepts were very new to us, but we were able to start putting that scaffolding around our idea.

With so much of the support network being concentrated at NorthLight, it made things happen really quickly for us. The physical space, the proximity to the people with the ideas and skills, and the connections outward; to the funders, mentors, discipline experts, and all the people we needed to connect with to start moving forward are either here or they are connected to the community. So, here, you are one degree separated from who you need – you never have to ask more than twice to end up in front of the person who can connect you with the information, advice, or support that you need.

And to bring it full circle, my first exposure to Yukonstruct was through the Makespace woodshop. I had a membership there because I was doing some woodworking, and my kids went to a couple of the Maker Camps during spring break and that was all really positive. So, I knew that they were on to something when I heard the vision to bring Cospace and Yukonstruct together in this building. I thought, “OK it’s going to be really cool“, and sure enough, it is.

We are so happy for you and your business partners. Thank you for sitting down with me, it’s been really interesting to hear your story. Before you go, I am sure you’ve had to do a lot of reading and podcast listening throughout your journey to building DiscoVelo, do you have any podcast or book recommendations?

I do!

HBR Ideacast is a podcast from the Harvard Business Review that is great, and The Harvard Business Review print Journal and web content is also excellent.

Startup by Gimlet Media is a great podcast by Alex Bloomberg – he used to be with This American Life. It’s an entertaining listen about his journey starting up a podcasting company.  Very meta!

As for books, What the CEO Wants You To Know by Ram Charan, and Start With Why by Simon Sinek are both classics and excellent.

Photo Credit: Stephen Anderson Lindsay