Hard work, determination and a passion to learn and reach out to their fellow aboriginal entrepreneurs are driving the success of Hilda Broomfield-Letemplier, Inuit, and Richard Fournier, Mi’kmaq Métis.
The two were among the 400 participants attending the Aboriginal Entrepreneurs Conference and Trade Show at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa, Canada, October 15 and 16.
“Being aggressive and networking for us are our key to success,” said Broomfield-Letemplier, owner and president of Pressure Pipe Steel Fabrication Ltd. (PPSF) and a panelist at the Aboriginal Women Entrepreneurs Networking session.
“It really is trial and error. I’ve been in business for a long time. I’ve done startups before,” said Fournier, president and chief executive officer of InGenius People. “I’ve been lucky in my career. I grow companies.”
Though the two have different backgrounds, the success stories of Broomfield-Letemplier and Fournier, both in their 50s, highlight how they value their aboriginal roots and how government programs have helped them grow their respective businesses. Both entrepreneurs counted networking as an important ingredient to their success, and now, with all their achievements, they want to give back and mentor other entrepreneurs who are on the same path.
“We diversified. We started as a manufacturer of storage container tanks,” said Broomfield-Letemplier of the Nunatsiavut-registered company, formed in 1991 in Goose Bay, Labrador. In 2002, she said, PPSF made the shift to being an industrial and mining supplier.
PPSF supplies some of the largest resource development projects in Labrador. The signing of the Nunatsiavut land claims agreement has been a boon to Broomfield-Letemplier’s business. Under the Inuit Impact Benefits Agreement, companies are obliged to work with Inuit suppliers of products and services.
PPSF has the distinction of being the first in Labrador to become certified and registered under the auspices of WEConnect, a non-profit certification organization. PPSF is also the first to be certified and registered in all Newfoundland and Labrador with the Canadian Aboriginal Minority Suppliers Council.
“There is work for us. We are paying ourselves back,” Broomfield-Letemplier said, looking back on the early days, when she started with little training. She took a two-year college course with focus on administrative and secretarial classes.
“When I started I didn’t know how to do a bank reconciliation. It is easy to do now,” she said, noting that one of the hats she wears is to manage finance and administration. Her husband, Lionel, takes care of the technical side of the business.
“We are growing by leaps and bounds,” said Broomfield-Letemplier, revealing that before year’s end, company revenues will conservatively be in the $8 million range. Last year revenues more than tripled, from $1.3 million in 2010 to $4.3 million.
“Mining is growing so fast,” she said. One challenge today is to find people with specialized training, she added. She also cited the lack of housing for workers in Labrador.
Two years ago, Fournier, with partner Greg Block, acquired InGenius Engineering, an Ottawa-based, aboriginal-owned and -operated high-tech firm specializing in IT staffing, payroll administration solutions and human-resource support.
InGenius People, where Fournier is at the helm, is prequalified for the Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business Program, an initiative that allows companies like Fournier’s to do more contracting with Canadian government departments and agencies.
“We are successful. We are getting more government businesses. We are spending a lot of time with the agencies,” said Fournier, adding that the time it takes to understand how to work better with the government is time well spent in growing the business.
“Traditional trades used to be high on the list, but I’m seeing many more high-tech workers and businesses,” Fournier told the weekly newspaper Metro. “Our client base has grown three times in the last two years.”
Among the clients of InGenius People are Health Canada, Statistics Canada, the Department of Finance, City of Ottawa, Ottawa Police Services, Canada Revenue Services, Verizon, Westell Technologies, Union Gas, Freescale Semiconductor and Nortel Networks.
“Recently, I’ve been spending more time understanding where I come from. It has helped me in business, from a decision-making standpoint,” said Fournier, a member of the Painted Feather Woodland Tribe.
He said changes in his personal life prompted him to reflect on his priorities. He has decided to be more proactive in staffing companies with aboriginal people.
“We are getting a name for ourselves. Getting on this type of events is important,” he said, noting that these days people are more open to hiring aboriginals. “It is hard to find aboriginal people. It is either, people don’t market themselves, [or they] don’t know we are here. A lot of people think there is still prejudice to being an aboriginal.”
To those who want to follow their dreams, Fournier said, “Keep at it. Reach out to as many people as you can. Entrepreneurs are mentors. We don’t mind sharing.”
Broomfield-Letemplier gave similar advice.
“I would encourage them to find a mentor. People like me dealt with the same challenges,” she said. “Don’t face it alone.”