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A Kool idea

Kool Kidz Ice & Water, located on the Grand River First Nation reserve near Brantford, Ontario, grew from a simple but striking business insight. “My late ex-husband founded Kool Kidz in 2008,” explains Diane Bomberry. “He recognized that you may be able to make more money in the short term from a lot of other things—but in the long term, there will always be a market for high-quality water.”

Her ex-husband’s vision proved correct, and the company has grown steadily in the years since its founding. But the company’s impressive growth hasn’t come without its challenges. As Diane’s daughter Tiffany notes, as Indigenous women entrepreneurs they sometimes face stereotypes that they need to overcome. “We run into roadblocks every now and then over who we are and where we’re located. When people learn that we are based on a reserve, sometimes their attitude shifts. They pause, and will ask about quality, or reliability—as if we might not meet the same standards as an off-reserve business,” says Tiffany. “My response is to let our products and services speak for themselves.” As her mother notes, “We send our water out for testing regularly, so we know we’re providing a high-quality product. And we focus on service, service, service. Sooner or later we win the doubters over.”

The barriers aren’t limited to skeptical customers, however. At the back end of the business, Diane and Tiffany have had to deal with challenges that most other small companies don’t face. The regulatory framework for business on-reserve, for example, is different in some respects than it is off-reserve—and that means having to navigate different sets of rules and regulations. In addition, negative stereotypes of reserves and of Indigenous peoples crop up occasionally when dealing with suppliers.

“There are times when we’ll request a delivery or service from another business, and everything is fine until we tell them where we are,” says Diane. “They then tell us that they don’t service our area or something similar—even though we know they service an adjacent community that is off-reserve. I don’t let it bother me.”

“What matters is our service,” she continues, “not who is providing it. We don’t want people to see us positively or negatively because we are Indigenous. We’re proud of who we are, but that doesn’t affect how well we do something.” She adds that her ex-husband always told their children to just focus on doing their job well, and that success would flow from that. It’s clear from how much Kool Kidz Ice & Water has grown that he was right.

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