“It’s phenomenal that Futurpreneur has been doing this work for 25 years. When I think about what they have done for me and my business, I realize that it takes dedication. They’ve inspired entrepreneur after entrepreneur.”
Almost all entrepreneurs agree that starting a business always takes hard work and a willingness to take risks. Starting a business that confronted COVID-19 shutdowns after only two months in operation takes unusual resolve and remarkable resilience.
Jason Courtepatte, a young Métis entrepreneur in Edmonton, demonstrated both in 2020 when his newly launched electrical services company, Kite Electric Limited, faced the pandemic and the frequently changing rules around shutdowns. In an example of true entrepreneurial energy, Jason not only weathered the challenges of COVID, he used his time to develop and refine ideas for other ventures that would ultimately lead to a second business coming to fruition in 2021.
Now a master electrician, Jason had contemplated starting his own business while he was completing his apprenticeship. As he points out, “Back when I was doing commercial installations, you hear about other journeymen who are thinking about starting their own thing. It puts it in your mind at that point that that’s the end goal.” Obtaining his journeyman certificate in 2016 after five years of on-the-job training, Jason was intrigued by the potential of solar energy, particularly as it fit with his strong commitment to environmental sustainability. Joining a solar installation company, he temporarily set aside a full time commitment to his own business and helped successfully build the company as its Director of Operations. By early 2019, Jason recalls that, “I found that I was doing everything myself anyway. So, it was a good time for me to step out and go full time with Kite.”
Having started Kite as a side hustle while working full time, Jason had received initial financial assistance through the Métis organization Apeetogosan Development Inc. that allowed him to commence operations. But the decision to make the business his full time focus required additional funds for specific tools and other hard asset acquisitions. Conducting his own online research, Jason came across Futurpreneur. Convinced by Jason’s business plan that clearly set his electrical company apart by focusing on sustainability, Futurpreneur provided the funding that allowed him to launch an expanded version of Kite Electric Limited by February 2020. As he points out, “I really wanted to grow a company that could provide a foundation moving forward. And renewable energy is still cutting-edge stuff. We’re still only just starting to see the possibilities of where it can go. Futurpreneur just believed in that.”
Within weeks of his full launch, the pandemic hit in March. Jason recalls, “We just closed our doors, took a step back and watched very carefully. I was studying what other service companies were doing.” His attentiveness paid off. After two stressful months, he came to the conclusion that the company “could safely continue home services with the right protocols. So, we slowly crawled out of that. We had to diversify out of our traditional mindset and rethink how we discussed options with customers.” While the first year of operations was filled with challenges, Jason moved ahead, securing new solar installation projects. With assistance from the federal government’s Canada Emergency Business Account and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, Jason was able to maintain his operation and retain his staff.
Perhaps the most striking example of Jason’s entrepreneurial agility was his ability to take advantage of the pandemic’s slowdown to explore and develop a whole new business. Hired by a solar installation company in Whitehorse to train its staff over a five-day session in February 2020, he came across a company called ColdAcre Food Systems that built customized, hydroponic growing systems. Perfectly aligned with Jason’s commitments to sustainability, he eventually approached the company about a joint venture whereby he would become the western Canadian distributor for the vertical farming system and “be the local boots on the ground in Alberta.” Forming a new company, Kite Ag Systems, Jason is working to raise capital “so we can get a unit online and operational here in Edmonton.” Excited by the potential of providing local residents, including the area’s Métis communities, with an ability to grow produce year-round, it seems a safe bet to assume Jason will make it happen.
Acknowledging that even with his drive and creative use of time, starting a business – not to mention two of them amid the complications presented by COVID – took a mental and emotional toll. While Kite Electric survived the challenges, Jason was forced to deal with erratic cash flows, slow payment on receivables, and the stress of managing the business on his own. At one point, he asked a friend, “Would it be the end of the world if I just picked up a fulltime job somewhere?” But, by digging deep, he persevered and when asked by Futurpreneur to participate in a panel about the importance of mental health for young entrepreneurs in October 2020, he jumped at the chance. As he reports, Futurpreneur’s invitation “came at a very good time because I was able to be very open. I had the opportunity to share my struggles. Sharing success is easy. But sharing the lows lets people know that they’re not alone. When I talked on that panel, I just wanted to connect with anybody who was listening to say, it’s okay to feel these ways. You can surround yourself with a circle of peers.”
It’s that kind of attitude and resolve that have made Jason a force in developing his wide-ranging commitments to ethical and sustainable ventures. It has also allowed him to pay attention to his personal growth. Growing up in an urban environment, few opportunities to interact with his Métis community existed. As he worked to fully define himself both personally and professionally, one of the many things he addressed was establishing a connection to his Métis roots. Today, he is actively involved in sustainability initiatives with nearby Métis communities and with the Louis Bull Tribe. He has become an active member of both the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. Jason has also ensured that he is listed as an Indigenous contractor on Alberta’s MétisWorks directory because, as he says, “It’s something I want to show as a point of pride. I wanted to show that I’ve started a business. I’ve committed to it and want to grow it and I’m passionate about it. I want to inspire others to do that as well.” Given Jason’s fortitude across all his endeavours, there is little doubt that he will inspire many.