Sisters Charlene and Bobby Ironman have made the semifinals in the Pow Wow Pitch competition.(Submitted)

Original Published on Aug 09, 2022 at 08:48

By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Westman sisters Bobby and Charlene Ironman are among a group of Indigenous entrepreneurs from across Canada and the United States eagerly waiting to learn if their business idea will be selected for the Pow Wow Pitch finals.

Founded by Sunshine Tenasco, of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in Quebec, Pow Wow Pitch aims to empower aspiring Indigenous entrepreneurs while promoting entrepreneurship as a part of Indigenous heritage.

The competition is open to vendors, artists and entrepreneurs. According to Pow Wow Pitch’s website, this year more than 2,500 Indigenous entrepreneurs pitched their businesses online and in person for a chance to win cash prizes ranging from $100 to $25,000.

Participants become eligible for the Pow Wow Pitch Box program, in which the company buys and distributes up to 2,500 units of products or services. There’s also access to mentorship and learning opportunities like business accelerator bootcamps and free resources. Participants get 60 days of free use of Shopify, which is a Canadian-based, multinational e-commerce company, and a free web domain for their business.

The Ironman sisters entered their business pitch, called Herbal House, into the competition’s health and wellness category. The sisters hope to open a herbal dispensary — which will not include cannabis — in Brandon in the near future.

Bobby lives in Brandon, while Charlene lives in Souris, 45 kilometres southwest of the city.

“We’re going to be offering hundreds of healing herbs, teas and essential oils,” Bobby told the Sun in a Zoom interview.

The sisters’ pitch captured the attention of the judges, and they joined 10 other businesses that are hoping to make it to the finals of the competition, including an Indigenous doula service out of Saskatoon and a sparring club in Los Angeles.

The sisters said they are “extremely nervous” about whether they’ll be included in a list of finalists, which they’ll learn in early fall.

“We hope to get first place,” Bobby said. “We really do feel confident enough that we are making it to the finals.”

Products at mainstream supplement stores are often very expensive, they said, which served as inspiration for their herbal dispensary.

“Health products are very expensive, so we’re targeting the people who can’t really afford to go into the health stores and buy bottles of supplements,” Bobby said.

They were also inspired by their mother, Barb McCulloch, who died last year from cancer.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for holistic health products became even more apparent to the sisters.

“We got the idea a couple of years ago, and we kind of started building on it and building on it,” Bobby said. “[The pandemic] really motivated us a lot more.”

Even if they don’t win the challenge, the sisters said they plan to forge ahead with their business in 2024.

Charlene is enrolled with the chartered herbalist program from Dominion Herbal College, and Bobby is a chartered herbalist who is taking a herbalist consultancy program with the same B.C.-based school in September. Both sisters studied previously at Assiniboine Community College, where Bobby studied business administration and marketing, and Charlene took anatomy and physiology.

This item reprinted with permission from the Sun, Brandon, Manitoba