Yukon entrepreneurs are making their mark on a national level.
Two Yukon entrepreneurs have been listed among 35 semifinalists for the 2021 CANIE Awards.
The Innovators & Entrepreneurs Foundation, a national charity focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, hands out the national awards each year in six categories.
PROOF, a Whitehorse-based technology company that specializes in helping governments go paperless, is a semifinalist in the Product Innovation category.
Joella Hogan of Yukon Soaps is a semifinalist in the Indigenous Entrepreneur category.
Videos featuring each of the semifinalists are available on the foundation’s website throughout June.
“It’s really exciting,” PROOF CEO Ben Sanders said in a June 9 interview.
PROOF also won two national titles in 2019, including Innovator of the Year from Startup Canada.
“I think we’re breaking the mold a bit,” Sanders said.
He noted the team at PROOF works at the intersection of government and technology and described the Yukon government as a “great partner” in embracing innovation.
Sanders himself has previously worked in government as well as on other technology initiatives that have ranged from BlackBerry to the Canadarm and more.
PROOF launched in 2017 with a focus of moving governments to a central platform specifically designed for government.
That work took on an important role in 2020.
“COVID has changed our world,” Sanders said.
For PROOF, which is headquartered in Whitehorse but has staff in other parts of the country, remote work is standard and the company quickly set to work with the government so that its staff could shift to work from home. Digital forms for self-isolation plans were developed with public health data.
“It feels really good to help,” Sanders said, adding that it is the public sector staff who have worked throughout the pandemic that are “real heroes.”
PROOF’s efforts are broadening to other governments, including working with the federal government, First Nations, provinces and municipalities across the country. That has meant a growing staff, now up to 16 from eight who were part of PROOF before the changes that came due to the global pandemic.
“It’s really exciting,” Sanders said, pointing to the paradigm shift occurring as governments — typically seen as moving slower — move to more digital systems.
“Others have followed [the Yukon government’s] lead,” he said.
Yukon Soaps, the second company harvesting national acclaim, is a well-known product that features wild rose petals, juniper berries and beadwork of Indigenous artisans in the territory.
As described on the company’s website: “these soaps are literally infused and imprinted with the spirit of the Yukon.”
While handcrafted soaps, essential oils and the like are the products produced, Hogan (who could not be reached directly for comment) has worked to make Yukon Soaps “a community-building, earth-connecting hub in the heart of the Yukon — the small town of Mayo.”
Hogan has found ways to help connect people to the culture and land, getting elders and local youth out on the land to gather wild botanicals, employing local youth, offering crafting workshops and being part of numerous farmer’s markets throughout the territory.
Her Northern Tutchone culture is a very important part of Hogan’s work both through Yukon Soaps and in her other work in the community.
As Hogan states on the company’s website: “I am also a professional heritage worker, who continues to bring Northern Tutchone culture and heritage to the forefront of life in the central Yukon. As an active advocate for my First Nation and a dedicated community builder, I stay busy with the Stewart Valley Farmers market, yoga, advocacy work, and kick sledding around beautiful Mayo, Yukon. I am an Indigenous, Northern, community advocate, having worked on oral history, academic, and projects, all with the over-arching goal of empowering northern peoples and engaging with our lands.”
The semifinalists were selected from a field of more than 420 nominations.
The 2021 CANIE award winners will be announced in July. A virtual reception is planned for October.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org