Fort High trio off to Ottawa to push their business plan

Peggy Revell

Three Fort Frances High School students will be taking their business plan for a funeral home to Ottawa next week to participate in the 10th E-Spirit National Aboriginal Youth Business Plan Competition.
Steven Mitchell, Max Calder, and Ryne Strachan will be joining more than 190 youth from across Canada on May 11-13 for the competition organized by the Business Development Bank of Canada, which aims to build entrepreneurial and business skills and knowledge in aboriginal youth from Grades 10-12.
“It’s been a lot of work, it’s been tiring,” said Mitchell about the project, which will see the trio presenting their business plan to judges in Ottawa—competing on behalf of Fort High for awards which include a $2,500 prize for a “gold finish.”
The trio first began working on the project after they were invited to participate from school organizers, explained Mitchell.
They were told they could come up with any business they thought they could make money with.
The group came up with a “bunch of ideas,” Mitchell noted, including a dance school, martial arts school, and catering, before deciding on one for a funeral home.
“My grandfather is really a big inspiration to me on this project,” Mitchell said of the reason behind their idea.
“Our reservation didn’t have a funeral home, and my grandfather was a smart guy but he wasn’t exactly rich so he couldn’t do what he wanted,” he recalled.
“He said a funeral home is the best way to make money off people.
“He said in society today, you don’t need a funeral but people want them, and they’re expensive,” Mitchell added, noting people nowadays can pay thousands of dollars for a funeral.
“The problem is if you go to a funeral home—it always has a church in it—you never see at traditional burial actually done,” Mitchell said about incorporating an aboriginal aspect into their project.
“And my grandfather said it would be nice if, whenever he passed, if he could have a traditional burial, so I figured it would be a great way to make money.
“People want to have a traditional burial and you can do different services for each different person,” he reasoned.
Mitchell said the team has put a lot of research into the project, ranging from such things as where to buy cremation chambers, all the supplies, graveyards, tombstones, coffin-making (even biodegradable eco-friendly ones), licensing, and what would be the most profitable route for their business.
The group has put together a PowerPoint presentation,
pamphlets and more to pitch their business plan to the judges.
Throughout the project, they’ve also had a lot of help from Fort High guidance counsellor Gary Medicine and the team’s sponsors, Gwen and Alyssa Reid.
“I liked mainly how we had the freedom to create really any business we wanted,” said Calder. “But we chose to go with the funeral home.
“And I liked how really open that was because we could have so many different types of burials, and we could really accommodate any kind of service.”
“I’m just glad they’re giving me the opportunity to go with them,” said Strachan, with all three agreeing the opportunity to travel to Ottawa is one of the best parts about the competition.
The national event also includes a trade show presentation at the University of Ottawa Rotunda, a cultural event at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and the awards gala.
For Mitchell, who originally is from the Akwesasne First Nation about an hour south from Ottawa, one big part of the trip is being able to go back home and visit with friends and family there.
“The free trip to Ottawa, that’s my favourite part, I can’t wait to see my family,” he enthused. “That and you get to check out the Ottawa universities, stay at the dorms, meet the different performances.”
“[And] get a little taste of the university life,” echoed Calder.
And since it’s an annual event, Mitchell encouraged more students to participate in upcoming years.
“More students should get involved, it’s a great opportunity,” he remarked.
“It would be great to put onto a college application or a university application that you’ve actually went into the competition, and if you’ve placed even better.”