Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program (AYEP)

Encouraging Indigenous students through entrepreneurship

High school graduation rates for First Nations, Métis Nation and Inuit people remain low, particularly at federally-funded schools on reserves. As a result, too many Indigenous youth find themselves with little opportunity once they leave school.

That’s why, in 2008, the Martin Family Initiative launched the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program (AYEP), a program for Grades 11 and 12 students, designed to introduce Indigenous students to the wide range of business opportunities available within the Canadian economy. The curriculum teaches students how entrepreneurs and other businesspeople recognize opportunities, generate ideas, and organize resources to plan successful ventures. Indigenous youth learn the perspective and skills required to achieve success in secondary school, the workplace, post-secondary education or training programs, and in daily life.

How AYEP works

AYEP’s curriculum is based on the requirements of provincial business courses supplemented with First Nations, Métis Nation and Inuit content, including case studies and examples of successful Canadian Indigenous business leaders.

AYEP seeks to help Indigenous youth develop the attitudes and skills necessary to achieve success in secondary school, the workplace, during post-secondary education or training, and in daily life. The curriculum teaches students to develop entrepreneurial opportunities that can lead to business ownership. They gain an introduction to business that will help them prepare for the working world regardless of their choice of career.

Using innovative hands-on activities, guest speakers, and business mentors, Indigenous students learn how to create a product-based and service-driven business and about the services provided by banks and credit unions.

Students are mentored by established business people, including Indigenous business owners, throughout the business planning process.

The program is closely monitored by MFI while it is operating and success is determined through both quantitative and qualitative measures.

AYEP teacher training

Prior to starting the course, MFI provides a two-day intensive training course for the staff who will be overseeing and teaching the course: the principal, lead teacher and back-up teacher. The course content, teaching and assessment strategies are reviewed as well as accountability requirements. Strategies to recruit and retain students are also discussed.

Teaching strategies include:

  • Classroom instruction

  • Simulations

  • Competitions

  • Guest speakers

  • Field trips to businesses

  • Mentoring


AYEP is offered in the last two years of high school. Upon successful completion of the course, students receive high school credits. AYEP is eligible to meet provincial and territorial high school requirements in most provinces and territories across Canada.


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Participating Schools

The following is a list of the schools across Canada participating in AYEP:

Allison Bernard Memorial High School

Eskasoni, Nova Scotia

Operated by:

Eskasoni School Board

Beaver Brae Secondary School

Kenora, Ontario

Operated by:

Keewatin-Patricia DSB

Bernard Constant Community School

James Smith Cree Nation, Saskatchewan

Operated by:

James Smith Cree Nation

Bert Fox Community High School

Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan

Operated by:

Prairie Valley School Division

Bonar Law Memorial High School

Rexton, New Brunswick

Operated by:

School District 16

Career Pathways School

Wabasca, Alberta

Operated by:

Northland School Division No. 61

Charlebois Community School

Cumberland House, Saskatchewan

Operated by:

Northern Lights School Division No. 113

Charles Hays Secondary School

Prince Rupert, British Columbia

Operated by:

School District # 52

Children of the Earth High School

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Operated by:

Winnipeg School Division

Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Operated by:

Northern Nishnawbe Education Council

Dryden High School

Dryden, Ontario

Operated by:

Keewatin-Patricia District School Board

E.D. Feehan Catholic High School

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Operated by:

Saskatoon Public Schools

Eagle View Comprehensive High School

Onion Lake Cree Nation

Operated by:

Onion Lake Cree Nation

Edwin Parr Composite High School

Athabasca, Alberta

Operated by:

Aspen View Public School Division

Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School

Fort McMurray, Alberta

Operated by:

Fort McMurray Catholic Board of Education

Fort Frances Secondary School

Fort Frances, Ontario

Operated by:

Rainy River DSB

Gordon Bell High School

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Operated by:

Winnipeg School Division

Grand Rapids School

Grand Rapids, Manitoba

Operated by:

Frontier School Division

H.B. Beal Secondary School

London, Ontario

Operated by:

Thames Valley DSB

John Paul II Collegiate

North Battleford, Saskatchewan

Operated by:

Light of Christ Catholic School Division

Kainai High School

Blood Reserve, Alberta

Operated by:

Kainai Board of Education

Major Pratt School

Russell, Manitoba

Operated by:

Park West School Division

Nutana Collegiate

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Operated by:

Saskatoon Public Schools

Oscar Lathlin Collegiate

Opaskwayak, Manitoba

Operated by:

Opaskwayak Educational Authority

Oskāyak High School

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Operated by:

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools

Queen Elizabeth Secondary School

Sioux Lookout, Ontario

Operated by:

Keewatin-Patricia DSB

Rossignol High School

Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan

Operated by:

Île-à-la-Crosse School Division No. 112

Sakewew High School

North Battleford, Saskatchewan

Operated by:

Battlefords First Nation Joint Board of Education

Scott Collegiate

Regina, Saskatchewan

Operated by:

Regina Public Schools

Se-Se-Wa-Hum School

Debden, Saskatchewan

Operated by:

Big River First Nation

Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate

Toronto, Ontario

Operated by:

Toronto DSB

St. Charles College

Sudbury, Ontario

Operated by:

Sudbury Catholic DSB

St. Mary’s College

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Operated by:

Huron Superior Catholic DSB

St. Patrick High School

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Operated by:

Thunder Bay Catholic DSB

Sydney Academy

Sydney, Nova Scotia

Operated by:

Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board

Voyageur Memorial School

Mistissini, Québec

Operated by:

Cree School Board

Wallaceburg District Secondary School

Wallaceburg, Ontario

Operated by:

Lambton-Kent DSB

Westgate Collegiate & Vocational Institute

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Operated by:

Lakehead District School Board

White Pines Collegiate & Vocational School

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Operated by:

Algoma District School Board

By every measure, AYEP has been successful

Over the past several years, schools in which AYEP is offered have consistently given enthusiastic, positive feedback about the program. The MFI-trained principals are actively supportive of the needs and requirements of the program, and the teachers also expressed their delight with the success of the program.

Teachers reported that their students demonstrated increased self-confidence, improved ability to speak in front of groups and on behalf of themselves, and knowledge of career options beyond high school. The teachers also noted that many of the students are in awe to realize that there are many people who care about them, even people who are not paid to do so.

Mentors and guest speakers also speak highly of the program and its benefits for students, remarking that they were pleased and excited to be a part of the initiative. At the major culminating activities of the course, like the business plan and trade show, mentors and guest speakers alike are filled with praise for the students. “Awesome job!” and “We are so proud!” are frequently heard.

Since the program has been available, several things stand out as significant markers of success:

  • Students appreciate having their own textbook/workbook specifically developed for AYEP

  • Teachers appreciate the  resource binders that have also been developed specifically for AYEP

  • Students indicated that they particularly enjoyed the field trips and business visits

  • On a site-by-site basis, AYEP has supported alternate year delivery of the program


AYEP is already producing Indigenous entrepreneurs


What follows are just a few of the many exciting AYEP stories that show Indigenous students are taking the skills they have learned and turning them into successful ventures, and more importantly, into confidence in their abilities and their futures.


Car Detailing in Saskatoon

A student from Nutana Collegiate in Saskatoon presented a business plan for an auto detailing business to 3 “friendly dragons”. His pricing was well researched and below the completion, and his plan to offer his services at clients’ workplace or home was well-received. By the time his pitch was done, all 3 “dragons” offered him contracts, which allowed to hire two friends for summer employment.

Tia’s First Nations Arts and Crafts Business

Tia, a student from Sakewew High School in North Battleford initially wanted to sell her aunt’s art and crafts on line. She quickly became so successful that she enlisted artists from five surrounding First Nations to supply her with art and crafts. Her mark-up was nearly 300% of what articles sold at Pow Wow. Tia has now completed her first year at the University of Saskatchewan and continues to operate her thriving online business while going to school.

Dallas’s Big Pitch

Dallas is a 20 year student, upgrading her marks after graduating. She chose to present her business plan at a AYEP Gathering in Saskatoon. There were approximately 75 students and 20 guests. Three representatives of Affinity Credit Union and one from PotashCorp acted as judges.  

Dallas was the first of 5 pitches that evening. She chose to go first, which was remarkable because before taking the AYEP class, Dallas had high anxiety about public speaking. She did a wonderful job presenting her business plan and her life plan for the next 6 year, which includes post-secondary education.

When asked about the impact of the AYEP on her life, this was Dallas’s response:

“The Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program has opened my mind and has made me think about the possibility of starting my own business, something I never thought I could accomplish.”

Dallas Billette Nutana Collegiate, Saskatoon

Alicia wins the Young Entrepreneurs, Make Your Pitch Competition in Toronto

One particularly illustrative example of just what Indigenous students are capable of is the story of Alicia Kejick, an Indigenous student at Beaver Brae Secondary School in Kenora.

Out of 204 video applications from across Ontario, Alicia was one of 20 invited to come to the Ontario Centres of Excellence Conference to make her pitch in person. Alicia came to the Competition with her Aunty, her Beaver Brae Secondary School Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneur Program teacher Pauline Gander, and a business plan for Manitou Massage, a Registered Massage Therapy business that incorporates traditional Ojibway healing practices, including smudging, prayers, culture and music. The motivation behind Alicia’s plan was a desire to stay close to her culture - and also because there are only two registered massage therapists in Kenora.

Alicia’s competition was largely technology-based, and judges sensed not only the sincerity of her presentation, but also recognized the strength of her idea, so her pitch was chosen as one of the six winners.

“Alicia worked really hard and put a lot into a great business plan and idea,” said Pauline, her teacher. “ I’m so proud. Very, very proud of her.”

Alicia’s post-secondary plans include massage therapy school and going to university for indigenous studies. Ultimately, Alicia wants to open Manitou Massage.

Textbooks by Indigenous teachers for Indigenous students

It is obviously important that Indigenous students see themselves reflected in the textbooks and other materials they use in school. But up until now, precious few of the educational materials used in schools have been designed with their specific needs in mind. For this reason, MFI worked with Nelson Education Ltd. to develop teacher resource materials and student textbooks for both the Grade 11 and the Grade 12 AYEP courses that specifically reflect the students for whom the program was designed.

The textbooks—the first of their kind in Canada—were written by two Indigenous teachers who taught the Grade 11 and 12 AYEP programs, and have been welcomed whole-heartedly by students, teachers and principals alike. In fact, many of them attribute the success of the program to these high quality, Indigenous-centered resources that were developed specifically for AYEP.