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SFU-supported fund helps Indigenous businesses make their mark

June 18, 2021

Jenn Harper had a vivid dream one night – of Indigenous girls smiling together and wearing lip gloss. Their radiant beauty and happiness left a lasting impression, which inspired her to make that dream a reality.

Harper began to pursue the creation of her own business, Cheekbone Beauty, while working full-time in sales and raising her family. She has also worked hard to learn more about her culture and family history as an Ojibwe woman.


Bringing the dream to life

Harper’s greatest level of support came from Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, with an investment of $350,000. Simon Fraser University has also supported Raven Capital with a $1 million contribution to the Raven Indigenous Impact Fund (RIIF), which helps Indigenous entrepreneurs, including Jenn Harper, achieve their dreams.

Harper says the funding from Raven Capital helped them launch their sustainable collection.

“We craft sustainable colour cosmetics and as Indigenous peoples we realize that we have this completely different view with regards to every living thing in nature - it’s not a commodity to us, we’re in relationship with things from nature including the planet and all its resources.”

Cheekbone Beauty continues to grow and evolve. The company, based in St. Catharines, Ontario now has its own lab with a full-time chemist. There are plans to expand beyond makeup and into skincare. Cheekbone Beauty will also be launching their products in Sephora within the year.


Empowering youth & community contributions

In addition to sustainability, Cheekbone Beauty also gives back to the community. The company donates 10 per cent of their profits to the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society’s Shannen’s Dream, which advocates for a better quality of education for First Nations youth. The campaign is named after Shannen Koostachin, a Grade 8 student who fought to have a safe and clean school in her northern Ontario First Nations community of Attawapiskat.

“Our mission is to help every Indigenous kid on the planet see and feel their value in the world,” says Harper. “We hope to show the world that you can operate a business that is about giving back to the community, empowering Indigenous youth, and leaving less of an impact on the planet.”


Support for Indigenous entrepreneurs

Created in 2019, the RIIF has so far supported seven Indigenous enterprises including PLATO Testing, Cheekbone Beauty, Virtual Gurus, OneFeather, Satya, Social Awareness Group/Nisto Link and Animikii Indigenous Technology. Raven Capital plans to raise funds for Indigenous entrepreneurs in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Inuit Nunangat next and continue its work into southern Canada and the United States in 2022.

“Raven was established to ensure Indigenous entrepreneurs across Turtle Island have access to patient, flexible capital needed to scale operations and achieve transformational impact,” says Stephen Nairne, Chief Investment Officer at Raven Capital. “We are thrilled to have supported Jenn Harper’s journey from solopreneur to building a sustainable cosmetics business capable of competing on the world stage.”

All Indigenous businesses that apply to the RIIF are evaluated based on four criteria including: commercial viability, potential for scale, transformational impact benefits for Indigenous peoples, and Indigeneity in management/ownership and governance.

"SFU is proud to invest in Indigenous-owned and founded companies," says SFU Associate Vice-President Finance, Alison Blair. “SFU has invested $1 million into RIIF, which has supported seven Indigenous enterprises to-date. And our investment with the Raven fund directly benefits both members of Indigenous communities and the SFU endowment fund, which supports current and future research and students.”

SFU became the first university to invest in RIIF in 2020 and has signed the Canadian Investor Statement on Diversity & Inclusion, an initiative coordinated by the Responsible Investment Association (RIA). Signing the agreement is SFU’s pledge to be accountable, ethical and transparent across investment portfolios and within the organization. 

These announcements build on SFU’s responsible investment policy since signing on to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) in 2014. In the PRI’s latest Assessment Report’s Strategy and Governance scorecard, which measures an institutions’ overall approach to responsible investment, SFU scored 29 points out of 30.