The TELUS Pollinator Fund for Good is investing in Indigenous businesses, with an eye on maximizing impact in building more inclusive communities. It’s all about interconnection.
Canada thrives when all of us are connected, and connecting Indigenous communities is critical on the path to Reconciliation. While Canada’s communications technology companies like TELUS are well known for spearheading connectivity in Indigenous communities — TELUS has thus far connected 151 communities in 91 First Nations to 5G and fibre networks — they’re also taking the initiative on another equally important type of connection: the connection to investment capital.
The $100 million TELUS Pollinator Fund for Good is a corporate social impact fund launched in 2020 with a mission to drive responsible innovation across the broad areas of agriculture, health care, the environment, and building inclusive communities. “We have diversity and inclusiveness built into how we operate, so we’re looking to address systemic biases and limitations with respect to access to capital,” says Blair Miller, Managing Partner, TELUS Pollinator Fund. “Over 50 per cent of our founders today within the portfolio are Indigenous and racialized people, and almost half of our portfolio companies are led by women.”
Respectful investing in Indigenous business
Recognizing the importance of collaboration, especially in Indigenous spaces, one of the Pollinator Fund’s first investments was in Raven Indigenous Capital Partners. Raven’s Impact Capital Fund is creating an Indigenous-led partnership empowered to specifically maximize the impact of investments as a means for addressing issues of systemic racism, bias, resource disparity, and inequality that beset Indigenous businesses and communities. “We knew that having an informed partner was essential to operating respectfully in the Indigenous business community, especially considering the issues of colonization and the historical trauma surrounding money and the effects of capital,” says Miller. “Raven was exactly what we were looking for.”
The Pollinator Fund was part of Raven’s initial $25 million Fund I raise and is reinvesting for a second time. As Raven recently launched Fund II, the partnership is providing critical support and resources to an array of Indigenous founders and businesses, beyond just capital. One of their most significant successes has been Virtual Gurus – which also joined the list of portfolio companies for the Pollinator Fund in early 2021. Today the company boasts the largest network of virtual administrative assistants in North America and Canada’s first successful Series A tech startup led by an Indigenous woman. But the path taken by Virtual Gurus CEO Bobbie Racette to get here was not an easy one. “She’d had so many rejections in terms of accessing capital to grow the business, and yet she persisted and found a way to move forward,” says Miller. “She’s the personification of grit.”
This is an example of the Indigenous entrepreneurs, businesses, and communities that are striving to make a difference for Indigenous Peoples across the country. On National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (September 30), the hope is that partnerships like that between Raven and the Pollinator Fund can continue to empower Indigenous-led businesses and Indigenous Peoples.