Kelly Edwards is going to Las Vegas — but not for the reasons most people make the journey.
Edwards, a 21-year-old student who took part in a 12-week young entrepreneurs course at the University of Winnipeg Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre, will be attending the 28th Annual National Reservation Economic Summit hosted by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development to compete for a chance to win $20,000. The conference is from Mar. 17 to 20.
As part of the young entrepreneurs course, taught by Winnipeg celebrity Wab Kinew, the students had to present and pitch their individual business plans to Kinew, the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce, and the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce on their last day of classes in December. Out of all the pitches, Edwards’ plan to convert a building in Kapyong Barracks into a boutique hotel and restaurant was the best one. As a result, he was chosen to head to the summit in Las Vegas to propose his plan among many other contestants.
Edwards said he’d heard about the young entrepreneurs course through Facebook, and decided to take it since it was free. He was sponsored by his band office in Sagkeeng, which provided him with $30 a day to take the program.
"The entire course was based on creating a business plan," Edwards explained. "(During) the last class, we had to do a Dragons’ Den-style pitch."
Edwards created a realistic and meticulous long-term plan to turn a building in Kapyong Barracks into a 40-room hotel and an initially small restaurant.
"The restaurant is starting off very small — it’s almost like a breakfast bar. But after the seventh year, after the debts are paid, we can expand the restaurant," Edwards said. "The entire land lease is 15 years, so we can manage to pay a long-term, pre-paid land lease."
Jodi Moskal, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce chairperson and one of the judges for the student pitches, said she was blown away by Edwards’ entrepreneurial knowledge.
"He is going to be one exceptional businessman. He was so thorough, his research was unbelievable," Moskal said.
One thing Moskal noticed was that Edwards chose an unlikely place to hypothetically place a hotel in Winnipeg.
"He’s not appealing to tourists," Moskal said. "He’s appealing to his community that needs to come in for different reasons, whether they’ve been flooded or for medical reasons. His business plan was based on that it had to be that piece of property, so that was kind of interesting."
The aspiring entrepreneur explained that the Kapyong Barracks property is still in dispute. Ottawa is currently trying to prevent First Nations communities from taking over the land, but if the decision is made in favour of the FN communities, they will most likely turn it into a hotel anyway, according to Edwards.
"The business plan is very contingent based upon the court decision. It’ll be another month before we know what actually happens," Edwards said.
There are no current business plans to develop Kapyong Barracks, but Edwards does have an edge over many other business plans, as members of many FN communities have already heard of his idea.
"A lot of people really love it," Edwards said. "(My plan) is ready (if they want it)."