When Gavin Decontie was just 16 years old, he didn’t know that he’d become a role model in his community as a young Indigenous entrepreneur. When helping out his mother with her small unofficial cleaning business it would lead him to launch his own enterprise one day. But it took him awhile to fully appreciate the opportunity that was right in front of him.
It all started when his mother’s health problems prompted her to steam clean her home and furnishings from top to bottom. After receiving many compliments on her own house, Gavin’s mother started cleaning the homes of friends and neighbours as a side hustle in addition to her full-time job. Gavin was soon helping out part-time to keep up with the growing demand in his community.
Like most students, Gavin juggled this part-time job with school work. But his job for spending money was quickly turning into his own growing business, juggling clients in the evenings and weekends with his three-hour daily commute to Ottawa for his Police Foundations studies at Algonquin College.
Eventually this schedule took a toll on his health and he re-routed his life toward the entrepreneurial path. And he hasn’t looked back.
Making it Official
When Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg (KZA) Band Council and CEGEP Heritage College offered a Small Business Development Course in his community, Gavin jumped on the chance to learn about business finance, marketing and business plan writing. With this blueprint for starting a business in hand, he officially registered his business in March 2019 and armed with his new skills and knowledge, applied for funding with the Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones (SAA) before graduating from the program in May.
“I didn’t hear back on my application for three months which felt like an eternity. My future was in someone else’s hands,” said Decontie.
“It feels great to be a 23-year old First Nations youth who is able to have my business in my community and not have to leave to pursue my dream… I have worked so hard to get here and appreciate the belief everyone has in me to succeed in my business!”
Community support and validation
Decontie’s business idea and business plan were first validated by the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg’s Community Economic Development Office (CEDO) Policy which awarded Decontie a $48,000 loan to help leverage additional funding and secured agreement from the band council to set aside land to establish his business premises. The CEDO loan acts as a strategic investment in local businesses given that Indigenous entrepreneurs have unique challenges and systemic hurdles to obtaining financing from mainstream sources.
With this support from his community, Decontie’s application to the SAA was successful, securing a $113,000 grant for the construction of his garage and equipment to grow his operations.
“It feels great to be a 23-year old First Nations youth who is able to have my business in my KZA community and not have to leave to pursue my dream. I am glad I took the entrepreneurial route and grateful for all I learned through the Small Business Development Program, the CEDEC workshops and most of all the support and guidance I received from Dylan Whiteduck (KZA Economic Development Officer). I have worked so hard to get here and appreciate the belief everyone has in me to succeed in my business!”
Not an Overnight Success
Gavin’s grit and determination over the years, growing his “unofficial” client base demonstrated that his business was, and would continue to be a successful startup. With steady clients like the KZA Health and Social Services Council, Decontie is already looking to create jobs in his community to serve a growing customer base when he expands to have a mobile cleaning business to serve other Indigenous communities both near and far, ranging from nearby Maniwaki to a radius of 200 km from the Ottawa/Gatineau region. Decontie also has his sights on a mobile cleaning service in northern Cree communities, further providing opportunity for job creation in Indigenous communities.
Business a Family Affair
As Gavin makes plans to build his garage this fall, he is already planning to expand his business to include pressure washing services. And after starting his business, thanks to his mother’s entrepreneurial spirit, Gavin is starting a second family business in partnership with his father to offer floor waxing and buffing.
Stay tuned for updates on Gavin’s entrepreneurial success story as we follow him through his business growth journey.