Startup focused on supporting Indigenous artisans wins pitch competition, coveted spot in BESTLab

Bergeron Centre
Bergeron Centre

In early April, five groups of students from the Lassonde School of Engineering, Schulich School of Business and the Faculty of Health at York University pitched their business ideas as part of the BEST Certificate’s Entrepreneurship and Technology Ventures course (ENTR 4500).

Each group – SleepPODzzz, Team Outfyts, Team PestTech, Team Cannabliss Spa and Team Heritude – presented their diverse ideas to a panel of judges who were later tasked with selecting just one winner.

A promotional graphic for Heritude

In the end, Team Heritude, which included Sebastian Shanthirajah, Utkarsh Pandy, Lyssete Bueno Murga, Tran Phuong and Emma Zacharias, came out on top, winning $500 and spot in the BEST Lab to work with Professor Andrew Maxwell to turn their idea into a viable start-up.

Maxwell is the Bergeron Chair In Technology Entrepreneurship, and director of the Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology (BEST).

Heritude’s business idea was a quality lifestyle brand that offers accessories, home decor and amenities designed by Indigenous communities. The product line would include clothing items, decor and jewelry as they found there is a high demand for handcrafted, artisan products in Canada. The team’s goal is to create and sell a line of products fulfilling this demand, while also supporting local communities.

There is no shortage of prolific, Canadian artists in Indigenous communities across the country already creating high quality goods. Heritude’s plan included recruited artisans to develop products collaboratively. The artists would benefit from working with Heritude as an online platform since they would be given access to the infrastructure required to run an e-commerce-based business, and be given the opportunity to grow their audience.

A concept image of Heritude’s product range

Heritude’s plan also included putting these artists and their cultures at the forefront of their products. From the online shopping experience to the unboxing process, Heritude proposed to make every part of the consumer’s product experience an educational one, teaching consumers about the Canadian Indigenous cultures creating the products they are purchasing. A portion of the revenues would go into initiatives benefiting Indigenous communities such as supporting reconciliation and monetary giving.

“The Heritude team was strong with a clear understanding of who their paying consumers would be and which artists they should attract. Each member’s passion was noticeable during the pitch. Undoubtedly, they convinced their audience on the attractiveness of this new venture concept as well as their ability to execute it,” said Moren Lévesque, professor of Operations Management and Information Systems, Schulich School of Business.