By Heather Campbell
SUDBURY – Extraordinary business success has already defined 27-year-old Kendal Netmaker as a man to watch. Founder and CEO of Neechie Gear, Netmaker was Laurentian University’s Indigenous Programs RBC Gkendassawin Trail speaker on March 16.
The young entrepreneur shared his compelling story of growing up in Sweetgrass First Nation, Saskatchewan with his mother and three sisters. With no male role model and limited resources, he was faced with a dismal future.
The turning point for Netmaker was in Grade 5 when his friend Johan from South Africa, whose father was a doctor, offered to pay for his soccer registration and drive him to practice and games. When Johan and his family moved away to Saskatoon they made sure that Netmaker would continue to play sports, giving Netmaker’s mother a 1986 Crown Victoria. Having their own vehicle meant he could continue to play sports and so did his younger sisters.
Neechie Gear is a lifestyle clothing brand he started at the age of 23 when he threw his idea into a business plan competition organized by Dragons Den’s Brett Wilson. He won $10,000 from that competition which he invested in printing his name and logo on shirts and selling at different events.
He believes that showing up is the most important element for reaching your goals. When he started operating the business in a small office, he again entered a competition and won free retail space for three months. With 500 square feet of retail space he set up his first clothing store. With no money to hire staff he worked fifteen hour a days.
Since 2011 when he won his first competition, he has gone on to be recognized with numerous awards. Most recently he received the 2015 National Youth Aboriginal Entrepreneur of the Year, the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and he recently received the 2015 Indspire Award. He also just returned from Dubai where he was one of three finalists for the 2015 Youth Business International Entrepreneur of the Year.
He has become a prominent role model for indigenous youth and has been invited to speak across Canada. In 2012 he met Prince Charles on the Royal visit to Saskatchewan and was honoured to give him a medallion. That meeting was captured in a photo and featured in Hello Canada Magazine. He was also a presenter for the first We Day in Saskatchewan that gathered 50,000 people to celebrate.
“A lot of my friends weren’t so lucky,” he says. “They ended up in resource rooms and being classified as needing extra attention, and some, ended up committing suicide later in life.”
The incredible generosity of his friend and his family demonstrated to him the power of human compassion at a young age. It has been the fuel for his business passion. Netmaker’s priority to give back is intermingled with his business acumen. He has given over $70,000 in cash donations to help kids play sports, much like the generosity he received.
“I never forgot what Johan and his family did for me and I wanted to help others in a similar way,” he says.