The last seven months have been an extended crash course in social entrepreneurship for Mark MarsolaisNahwegahbow.
Since establishing Birch Bark Coffee Company last spring, the Birch Island entrepreneur has followed a path strewn with a lot of hard work, a little luck, a few challenges, and valuable insight.
But through the process, Marsolais-Nahwegahbow has stayed true to his dream of a world in which every Indigenous person in Canada has access to clean, potable water.
"I'm trying to make a difference, and I'm trying to show people that companies such as the one I built with Birch Bark want to make some changes and want to inspire other entrepreneurs to follow suit," he said during an Oct. 30 presentation at The Foundry, housed in the Jim Fielding Innovation & Commercialization Space at Laurentian University in Sudbury.
"It's very important going forward."
Birch Bark Coffee Company--which takes its name from the founder's home community, located within Whitefish River First Nation--produces a line of organic, fair-trade, freshly roasted coffee blends.
All proceeds from sales go toward the purchase of water purification systems, manufactured in Canada by Can-Am Wellness, which will be installed in Indigenous homes impacted by boil water advisories.
At the outset of his journey, Marsolais-Nahwegahbow figured he'd sell some coffee and start installing the purification systems right away.
But the business took off so quickly, he said, he's had to slow down and re-evaluate his business plan to ensure its long-term viability.
"I'm committed to creating an environment that's inspiring and supportive for aspiring entrepreneurs," he said.
"And I'm trying to create a new movement with this business that's really unique. I'm trying to change the way we look at business."
Partnerships have played an essential role in laying a solid foundation for the company.
Shortly after launching, Marsolais-Nahwegahbow connected with the founders of Canadian ecommerce company Shopify, who approached him about collaborating on promotion and sales.
Since then, demand for his product has taken off- he averages $7,000 to $10,000 in monthly sales, something he said is "unheard of" for a coffee startup.
The product has been shipped as far as Hawaii and Jamaica, and the list of retail outlets stocking his coffee is growing.
Working with Halifax-based Just Us!, the third largest coffee roaster in the Atlantic, he's sourced coffee beans produced by Indigenous communities...