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Burgeoning businesses in the Kitikmeot

Would you buy a fidget spinner made of caribou antler?

Cambridge Bay's Thomas Kaohina hopes so. His innovative idea is one of many that have arisen among budding Kitikmeot entrepreneurs who are getting a grounding in how to run a business.

The Inspire Nunavut group in Kugluktuk comprises, front row from left, Luke Ayaligak, Christin Kukilukak, Danielle Adjun and Travis Kaohina. Back row, from left, coordinator Paul Williams, Pocco Ilgok, Ian Taptuna, Vince Browning, Dennis Ongahak, project manager Sam Thumm and Chad Hayohok. photo courtesy of Inspire Nunavut

Ten youth in Cambridge Bay and 10 in Kugluktuk are enrolled in Inspire Nunavut's mentorship program for youth with an interest in business and social entrepreneurship.

Kugluktuk's Luke Ayaligak and Ian Taptuna have announced on social media that they are planning to open an online store called Copper Electronics.

Danielle Adjun has been researching how to sell loose leaf teas via the Internet as part of the "Shopify challenge," an initial online marketing exercise for Inspire Nunavut participants, who got started in October. They spend the first eight weeks in the classroom before moving on to establishing their own enterprises.

"I've always been interested in becoming a business owner and learning about how business is run," said Adjun, 24. "Because we don't have a lot of businesses in the North, I knew it's something that someday I'd be passionate about."

Adjun, who took a semester of business administration last year in Halifax, said she hopes that by the end of the Inspire Nunavut program in March she'll better understand how a business is operated, how to manage finances, how to handle customer relationships, best practices for hiring local staff and responding to consumer demand in the community.

Inspire Nunavut has been grooming young business minds in the territory since January 2016, with courses offered in Pond Inlet, Iqaluit, Arviat, Baker Lake and Iglulik, prior to coming to the Kitikmeot. Funded by the territorial government, participants in the program receive a training allowance. They are encouraged to incorporate Inuit culture and values in their business pursuits, according to Karine Smith, Inspire Nunavut's director of operations. The goal, she noted, is to solve problems in communities and to raise the standard of living.

Smith said 56 per cent of participants have graduated from the program while operating a small business. Half of the 30 businesses that have been launched are still operating, she noted.

Another 30 per cent of graduates either returned to school or found meaningful employment, Smith added.

Once the training concludes, graduates are able to ask questions of Inspire Nunavut's core team and have access to periodic workshops as well as the organization's learning resources, said Smith.

"We are currently working on building out a permanent support infrastructure to provide ongoing support to graduates," she said.