Indigenous entrepreneurs enter the Bears’ Lair

By David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
BayToday

A new television series is giving Indigenous entrepreneurs across Canada an opportunity to grow their business and compete for prize money. However, to reap these rewards, these business owners must enter the Bears’ Lair to pitch why they deserve to move forward toward the final prize.

Bears’ Lair is produced by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and presents 18 Indigenous entrepreneurs who pitch their business plans to the “Bears” and guest judges who decide if the presenters will carry on to the next level.

The premise is very similar to CBC’s Dragon’s Den and ABC’s Shark Tank, but there are differences that make the show stand out. The obvious is that all contestants and judges are Indigenous, and also notable is that the successful presenters are eligible to earn a share of the $180,000 in prize money.

Each show runs for half an hour and features brief background stories and presentations from three contestants. There are six episodes that follow this format and after each, one participant will be awarded $10,000.

Then there are two semi-final episodes, again with three contestants per show and four of those advance to the season finale. The finale showcases those four finalists presenting the ultimate business pitch, because the winner will take home $100,000.

With such stakes, the judges—or Bears—have a lot on their plates, as deciding the fate of contestants is not an easy task. Tabatha Bull is one of the judges, and she’s been enjoying the experience working wither her fellow Bears Geena Jackson, Dave Tuccaro and Robert Louie. Bull hails from Nipissing First Nation, and still has family there, so she gets back to the area from time to time.

Bull is an engineer, and very involved with the business community. Currently, she serves as president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB). Her experience is vast, and perfectly fitting for a Bear, but when she received the offer to host, she was taken by surprise, as she never thought she would be a key cast member of a TV show.

She’s already being recognized from her role in Bears’ Lair—“which seems very odd to say,” she admits—“but I never thought I would be on a TV show, and it’s been an incredible experience.”

What made it so incredible for Bull is that she and her fellow judges were able to “support the entrepreneurs” presenting, and the talent and quality of ideas that came into the lair “made it difficult to decide” who would move on. “We had good discussion amongst the judges” she recalled.

Some of the businesses rang a bell, as she recognized a few names from her work with CCAB. Others were new to her, and she was impressed by the variety, as “many sectors” were represented within the lair. All who presented were also provided membership in the CCAB.

The membership is part of the ongoing support and mentorship made available to Bears’ Lair participants. Once the cameras stop rolling and the lights go down, those who made a pitch are still connected to the show and many resources are made available to them to help fuel their entrepreneurial spirits.

“It’s quite remarkable to see how supportive the other entrepreneurs are of each other” as well, Bull said, noting how overall, the show exudes a kind tone, that welcomes members of the Indigenous business community so each can grow and learn from each other.

Which is one of the main reasons Bull was attracted to the show. “It’s really about raising awareness about Indigenous entrepreneurs,” she said, “and the types of businesses that they are in and the success that they are already having.”

“A lot of capacity and opportunity exists in the Indigenous economy,” she said, noting that already she’s heard of people watching the show and seeking out more information on the presenters’ businesses. The show is helping to get the word out.

Bull mentioned she “learned a lot from the show, from the judges and entrepreneurs, and it was a really rewarding experience.” The episodes airing this fall are for the pilot season, but if Bears’ Lair gets the green light for another season, she definitely wants to return to the lair.