Networking event strikes strategic business matches

More than a trade show, Aboriginal Business Match builds profitable partnerships

Through organized matches and open networking, Aboriginal Business Match events help generate millions of dollars in new business deals between native bands and the wider business community | Raven Events and Communications

Combine LinkedIn with a hefty speed-networking session, and you’ll get a sense of how the most powerful aboriginal-driven business development event in Canada is run.

With a sophisticated online tool that connects participants before they meet in person, Aboriginal Business Match (ABM) has grown into a high-impact operation. As efficient as it is strategic, the event also manages to broker meaningful relationships and get business done in an unprecedented way.

“I’ve gone to many, many, many, many trade shows,” Brenda Baptiste said with a laugh. “ABM is vastly different from a trade show.”

“It’s one of those few events that actually grows business, and that’s their intent, and that’s their goal and their vision, and it meets that goal,” said Baptiste, who has been on the ABM steering committee since the beginning and is chair of the Aboriginal Tourism Association of BC.

The first year Raven Events and Communications ran an ABM, she said, the event generated about $33 million in business deals they could quantify. Originating in B.C., ABM events are now hosted across Canada and generally clear over $30 million in new business deals.

The key to fostering the productive conversations that transpire on the trade floor is ABM’s online profile and communication tool. Once participants register, they can identify their business goals and strategically connect with aboriginal delegates or representatives from companies across sectors in the wider business community.

At B.C.’s last ABM in May, 295 delegates made over 2,700 meeting requests in the lead-up to the two-and-a-half-day event in Penticton. Once an ABM event kicks off, participants attend up to 31 scheduled 20-minute meetings to discuss how to advance a First Nations community, mutual business interests or, most likely, both.

“ABM is the only event that I know of where those conversations come to pass,” said Giles Newman, a partner with BDO Canada, the leading provider of auditing services and advice to First Nations. “There are other organizations that do economic development, but nothing that is essentially tangible, specific and deals with the issues right there and then, and often on the trade floor.”

“It’s about creating long-term partnerships and long-term relationships and long-term trust across First Nation communities, across Canada,” he said, adding that it’s common to hear of participants who start a conversation and conclude a business deal within the space of a single business match event.

For Hannah McDonald, an associate with the North Vancouver-based law firm Ratcliff & Co., having prior access to what delegates were looking to achieve at the ABM event allowed her and her colleague to prepare proposals and pitches tailored to each community’s needs and ambitions.

“Every nation that we met had a different stage of economic development, and were all throwing around totally different ideas,” McDonald said. “And all of their ideas for economic development and business opportunities were specifically kind of suited to their territory, whether that be their land or their community or the capacity among their membership.”

She said that while the research involved in preparing for each meeting was extensive, it was worth it.

An ABM event is generally attended by businesses representing a variety of sectors – from tourism to banking to mining – and by delegates from aboriginal communities who have long-standing reputations as economic developers, as well as by those just starting to evaluate different business opportunities.

“B.C. is a very complex place because we’ve got so many communities – over 200 First Nations communities – that have some of the richest resources in their backyard,” Baptiste said. “And whether it’s tourism or whether it’s resource-based or service-based, there are huge opportunities here.”

Hosted by the City of Prince George and the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, the next Aboriginal Business Match takes place in Prince George June 27-29. 

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