An aspiring entrepreneur who links snowboarding with NWT furs might soon give Yellowknife another claim to fame on an international stage.
Yellowknifer Joel Dragon Smith has advanced to the final rounds of the Arctic Future Challenge, a competition for young business people from circumpolar countries.
Dragon Smith, an avid snowboarder, is advancing a business plan based on the fur warmers made by Aurora Heat, his family’s business that his mother Brenda Dragon started in Fort Smith. They source materials from the Mackenzie Valley Fur Program, which receives its furs from trappers across the territory.
“My mom grew up with that traditional knowledge of trapping and furs,” Dragon Smith said. “And I used to go snowboarding for hours outside but then I would come back and my hands and feet would be really cold. So she started giving us fur to put in our mitts. That was sort of an ‘aha’ moment, because they work so well but they’re not accessible for everyone.”
The warmers are made of sheared beaver fur, the very soft inner fur that is left over when the waterproof guard hairs are removed.
“I just want to bring that into the global snowboarding community. I’m also targeting the younger snowboarders. The younger generation seems to be more passionate about social change and social justice. They’re more aware of the history with Aboriginal history and intergenerational trauma. They’re looking for ways to support truth and reconciliation.”
“I’m really proud of my business plan and our product. It’s an all-natural product. It really hits that sustainability aspect. Not only that but there are so many things behind Aurora Heat that really creates positive impact for the North and preserves cultural heritage and traditional practices. It gives people identity and pride in that trapping lifestyle. I think we’re kind of losing that as we go forward in time. I think it’s something worth supporting.”
He submitted his entry to the international competition in July, and was informed that he won the Canadian round in August. The contest was founded in Iceland in 2019 to boost entrepreneurship and innovation among Arctic youth, and to raise awareness of the Arctic as a region with investment potential, according to its website.
Applicants are between 18 and 29 years of age and their entry projects must support at least one United Nations Sustainable Development Goal in the Arctic region.
“I thought it was awesome to just win the nationals,” said Dragon Smith. “We should have been going to Iceland for the award ceremony and there was going to be workshops and I was going to meet all these people. It was going to be in October but with Covid they cancelled it and they’re changing it to a virtual award show.”
Online voting by the public has already begun. In his category of Best Arctic Youth Business Concept, Dragon Smith is competing against contestants from Russia, Iceland, Sweden, Greenland and the U.S.
The other Canadian company in the competition is Tundra North Tours, in Inuvik, which entered the Arctic Youth Startup of the Year and Arctic Youth Founder of the Year categories.
After the voting, a jury will make final decisions on one winner in each category, which will be announced in October. Winners will receive a cash prize of 25,000 Danish krone ($5,200) and mentoring suited to the winners’ business plans.
“Even winning the nationals was a big opportunity to… showcase products,” Dragon Smith said. “There’s lots of potential for spreading the word and showing our products and getting into potential markets in Iceland, or talking to people around there that might know other places. It’s fun to be in the competition like that. I get to represent Canada!”
To vote for Dragon Smith visit this link.