November 2010

Social capital

Mining firms back Aboriginal business development fund

By Marlene Eisner

The management behind the Manitobah Mukluks brand has native roots and, backed by equity investment from the CAPE Fund, global ambitions

Sean McCormick figured he had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, when he called up the managers of the Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship Fund (CAPE). McCormick, the 36-year-old owner of Blue Moose Clothing Company Ltd., read an article about the fund and decided he had a better-than-average chance of attracting their attention. McCormick, who is Metis, started his company out of Winnipeg in 1997, producing authentic, high-quality moccasins, mukluks, mitts and gauntlets, using traditional designs dating back thousands of years. Selling mostly to giftware boutiques, in August 2009 he decided to launch the Manitobah Mukluks brand to expand the line into the footwear industry and go global. The CAPE Fund seemed an ideal vehicle to help him grow.

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin and his son David set up the fund last year. It is a mid-market, $50 million, private equity fund, which has attracted investors looking for a disciplined, socially responsible investment vehicle that can also provide positive rates of return. The mission of the CAPE Fund is to “further a culture of economic independence, ownership, entrepreneurship and enterprise management among Aboriginal peoples, on- or off-reserve, through the creation and growth of successful businesses.” Investments range from one million dollars to $7.5 million.

“It’s hard for a small company to handle exponential growth,” explains McCormick, who will use the common equity investment of between one million and three million dollars from the CAPE Fund to help fuel the expansion. In addition to the dollars provided, the fund is structured to provide broad-based support. “The CAPE fund has a wealth of very successful business people that have a lot of experience and provide support to help small businesses turn to medium-size businesses — and that includes management and financial support,” he says.

Lofty intentions

When the Martin family established the parameters of the CAPE Fund, the goal was to provide capital for investment projects while developing managerial skills and entrepreneurial talent among Aboriginal Canadians. They approached members of the business community to invest in more than a financial strategy; they encouraged them to be a part of the capacity building that many Aboriginal communities require to ease poverty and sharpen business acumen.

“We wanted to attract Canada’s private sector to this problem and find a vehicle to get it involved,” explains CAPE Fund’s David Martin. “Basically, the challenges for our Aboriginal peoples are economic and social, and they go hand in hand. You’re talking about the youngest and fastest growing segment of our population. Most are under the age of 25, and it’s either going to be a lost opportunity if we don’t address the issue or it will form part of a solution to Canada’s impending labour problem,” says Martin, who sits on the committee that decides which companies are considered for CAPE funding.

In the last two years, approximately 200 companies across Canada have been vetted, with two so far receiving CAPE support, and others about to be completed. Along with Manitobah Mukluks, One Earth Farms benefited from a three million dollar investment in common shares as part of the company’s $42 million first-year fund raising led by Sprott Resources. One Earth managed over 32,000 hectares of agricultural land in 2010 on its way to its target of over 400,000 hectares in the coming years, on tracts from Alberta to Manitoba.

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