A Guelph entrepreneur is using a pitch competition to raise awareness for their charitable initiative.
LJ Turtle Aromatherapy, a business in the Guelph Farmers' Market, is a semifinal candidate for the Pow Wow Pitch, a business pitch competition for Indigenous entrepreneurs. This year, 2,400 participants have entered and 126 were selected for the semifinals.
Lisa June Byers is the founder and CEO of LJ Turtle Aromatherapy who presented their pitch through TikTok on June 16. This is the second time Byers has pitched in the competition and is excited about making it to the next round.
LJ Turtle Aromatherapy sells aromatherapy jewellery and acorn diffusers, which are handcrafted and parts are foraged in Guelph.
"I was confident, I will say that. I had a really good pitch compared to last year," said Byers, who is Ojibwa, Scottish and Irish. Their grandmother is a member of Wabauskang First Nation.
"I also prepared by watching last year's pitchers, they gave us the links, it was on YouTube, it was out there, so I had spent a lot time like, 'Okay, you watch people, what they say, how they say it, a minute is not a long time, so what are the things you're going to fit in?'"
If they win, Byers plans to use the money to help grow their business as a social enterprise.
Currently, Byers is selling acorn diffusers as part of a fundraising initiative for the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford to raise $10,000 for a new language program called Cycle of Ceremonies, which will teach Cayuga.
"It's not just about the pitch, it's getting the educational message out there about what these acorns represent, you know, hope and resilience of Indigenous peoples, it's the baby seed of a big oak, right? So to me, that's very symbolic of the language program and Indigenous peoples being able to survive for as long as we have on Turtle Island given the Indian Act and all that it includes," said Byers.
"It is really hard to relearn, so when I could help another organization and community learn. I’m doing it across communities, so it doesn’t matter that they’re Mohawk and I’m Ojibwan, it’s all Indigenous to me, so if I can help, then I will.”
Byers decided to develop their business into a social enterprise around the time news of 215 unmarked graves at the residential school in Kamloops, B.C. was reported in May 2021. In the late 90s, Byers said they attended a residential school with their sister before it was torn down in 2000.
"It's still giving me chills, it's very upsetting, it's still extremely upsetting that we haven't found all the children," said Byers.
While Byers had been supporting Woodland Cultural Centre before the unmarked graves were discovered, they said they wanted to do more. Byers went on to $15,200 for Woodland's 'Save the Evidence' campaign, which would preserve the former residential school building it runs out of.
“I've contacted them again and asked, ‘Did you need more fundraising?’ Because somehow, I’m good at doing this and I like doing this, so let’s do it again," said Byers about organizing their current fundraiser for Cycle of Ceremonies.
As a semifinalist, Byers was given mentorship to improve their pitch and present again. Byers second pitch will be included in a video with other business pitches, which air Sept. 7. If chosen to participate in the finals, Byers will need to prepare a two-minute pitch.
"They also have a People's Choice Award, so whoever wins the People's Choice Award will automatically advance to the finals as well, so it would be nice to get some votes and get bumped ahead to the finals, that would be excellent as well," said Byers, which people can vote for them here.
No matter what happens in Pow Wow Pitch, Byers said their focus is getting the acorn diffusers into art galleries, museums and university gift shops. Currently, the acorns can be purchased at the Guelph Civic Museum. Byers has also hired more contract crafters to help create the acorn diffusers.
"Longer term, I would like to put together DIY kits, so where I would give you all the pieces, and say like a Grade 8 class, buy a kit, make the acorns themselves and then sell the acorns for their own fundraising," said Byers.
To learn more go to ljturtle.ca.