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The future Indigenous Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship will be located at 200 Dundas St. E. A new innovation hub will soon open doors to Indigenous entrepreneurs, serving as a catalyst for the creation of Toronto’s Indigenous Business District by 2020.

The city’s executive committee on Monday backed Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam’s proposal to create the Indigenous Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Scheduled to be built by next year at the corner of Dundas and Jarvis, the incubator will offer services and entrepreneurial mentorship to Indigenous businesses across the city.

"I think we are about to change the way people look at Indigenous businesses in Canada," said Wong-Tam, noting the idea has been modelled on other successful incubators like Communitech in Kitchener-Waterloo, ONRamp at the University of Toronto and Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone.

"We anticipate that we’ll have hundreds of people coming through the centre, and we’ll have tens of thousands coming to the neighbourhood to build their businesses, to scale up their entreprises, to find a marketplace in Toronto. It’s an amazing opportunity."

The Indigenous Business District would be akin to Toronto’s existing economic zones like Little Italy or Chinatown. It would stretch the length of Dundas Street from Church to Parliament, a strip already home to many Indigenous services such as the Native Women’s Resource Centre, Nishnawbe Homes Inc. and the Council Fire Native Cultural Centre.

Both the centre and the business district have the backing of local Indigenous organizations such as the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB).

"Momentum behind this project is growing, and it’s going to take a multitude of players to make this a reality," said the council’s president Jean Paul Gladu, adding that Indigenous-led businesses already contribute billions of dollars to Canada’s GDP.

"It’s important that we can get together and celebrate our success and share that with other Canadians," he said.

CCAB was instrumental in helping prepare and submit the business district idea for Toronto’s Smart Cities Challenge. The federal government announced the competition last year, calling for bold and innovative ideas that have the potential to transform and strengthen middle-class communities.

Finalists will be announced this summer and will receive a $250,000 grant to streamline detailed business proposals. The winning projects, to be announced in spring 2019, will receive various prizes up to $50 million.

Wong-Tam said being selected for this challenge would bring more pride to the Indigenous community and accelerate work on social innovation and successful businesses. But even if the Indigenous Business District idea isn’t selected, she said, it’s still important to create.

"Right now across the country there is no Indigenous business and cultural district, yet Indigenous people were the first entrepreneurs of Toronto and Canada," she said.

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