Innovation often combines STEM skills and entrepreneurship, so it’s no surprise that people who can merge commerce and technical capabilities are in demand. Some Indigenous entrepreneurs are realizing the immense potential of combining STEM capabilities and business savvy with their unique understanding of community needs. Jason Thompson, a Red Rock Indian Band citizen, launched Warrior Engineering Ltd. last year to participate in the booming mineral exploration and environmental management opportunities in northern Ontario.
“There’s so much work right now it’s ridiculous,” says Thompson. “If I can be a conduit for change and get a few people on a clear path to an engineering degree or professional designation, I’m all for it.”
Over the next decade, STEM occupations are projected to grow more than twice as fast as the general labor market, thanks in large part to the swiftly expanding digital economy. Artificial intelligence (AI) is currently one of the fastest-growing fields, accelerating transformation in biotech and medicine among numerous other sectors.
Opportunities in AI have attracted trailblazers from both business and STEM backgrounds, including specifically Indigenous perspectives. Brian Ritchie, a member of Chapleau Cree First Nation, founded kama.ai to develop what he calls “emotional intelligence,” which evaluates information on positive-oriented values of the human spirit (kama). “The medicine wheel and the Seven Grandfather Teachings guide our company values and define how we approach the software development process of building our emotional intelligence,” Ritchie explains. “Indigenous people have to be self-sufficient in ways that reflect our teachings and values — for our company, that means participating in shaping AI.”
Organizations that have adopted kama.ai’s patented platform include Canada’s largest rural internet service provider and Indigenous Tourism Ontario. Demonstrating the value of combining STEM skills and business savvy to reach innovative breakthroughs, Ritchie has both a BS in engineering and an MBA.
Nova Scotia–based 3D Wave Design also turns complex data into real-world applications through its Mi’kmaq-designed software that helps Atlantic communities prepare for the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change. Co-founders Barry Stevens and his son Noah from Acadia First Nation integrate 3D modeling, laser scanning, engineering reports, and more into their application, allowing users to simulate conditions such as flooding or wildfires to evaluate risk in their communities.
Last summer, an initiative called Samqwane’jk was announced in the region by Ulnooweg Development Group and partners to fund collaborations between Indigenous businesses and technology companies that improve the sustainability of both oceans and communities. Emerging resources such as these can help Indigenous STEM creators bring their innovations to a wider audience. “We have entrepreneurs with ideas who just need that little extra step to support them so they can capitalize on the resources already out there,” said Ulnooweg’s Christopher Googoo. “It’s getting them to realize that this space is available for us — and we shouldn’t be afraid to go into it.”