Arts and Business student's startup connects First Nations to investors

Monday, November 10, 2014

While working at a co-op job in Hong Kong, Waterloo student Robert Beamish’s boss asked him to organize a business pitch competition in Beijing.

Then she told Beamish he would be the first presenter to make a pitch. “It was the push I needed,” says Beamish, a fourth-year economics and business student in the Faculty of Arts.

Robert BeamishBeamish went on to win the competition and launch his startup, Anokasan, a business that matches resource-rich Canadian aboriginal communities with Asian investors. So far, interest has been strong. With his Hong Kong-based partner, Evan Wilcox, Beamish has already begun work on two natural resource projects in the Northwest Territories.  

The key to the startup’s success, says Beamish, is his passion for building relationships, something he discovered through Waterloo’s exchange program at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid.

There, he volunteered at the university’ Exchange Network as an administrative coordinator. “My job was to take people from all around the world and find common ground for them. I loved it.” Eventually, Beamish realized his own skill at building relationships across cultures was a valuable, and marketable resource.

Beamish is also receiving mentorship through GreenHouse, the social innovation/entrepreneurship incubator, and the Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre - both based at St. Paul's University College.

Through Anokasan, Beamish runs seminars and workshops tailored to introduce Asian investors to each specific aboriginal culture, and offers seminars on Asian business culture to aboriginal communities. That way, preconceptions and assumptions can be dealt with before the first meeting. Then he facilitates delegation trips, social events, and cultural exchanges. All this, Beamish says, because strong relationships are key to good business in both cultures. When a deal is reached, Anokasan takes a small percentage.

Beamish says aboriginal values shape their business. He and his partner are themselves members of aboriginal communities: Algonquin Metis and Cree Metis, respectively. Beamish says his own father has taught him to see his culture as more than a gateway to business opportunity: “Understanding the beliefs and values around aboriginal culture is key to doing business in that area, yes, but it’s also important to remain true to who you are and your culture.”

Originally published in Waterloo Stories

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