Jeff Ward spent his youth wanting to be a doctor.
“Somebody made the mistake of paying me to make a website for them,” said Ward, who is a self-taught software developer and web designer. “Got bit by that entrepreneurial bug.”
The founder and CEO of Animikii Indigenous Technology started tinkering with HTML and exploring the World Wide Web out of curiosity – a hobby that turned into freelance and consulting work when he was in high school.
His first project was a website for Sen. Thelma Chalifoux, Canada’s first female Métis senator and a family connection. His largest project involved creating interactive educational activities for K-12 students.
Before founding Animikii in 2003, Ward’s work took him to Silicon Valley when he was in his late teens and early 20s.
“It was a very capitalistic, materialistic environment for, essentially, a teenager to be down there,” he said. “I think I was probably way overpaid for that point of time in my career. It was just a very crazy time to be living down there.”
Ward worked for a number of Valley startups before returning to Canada after the dot-com bust.
“I wanted to use my skill set to support the community that raised me,” said Ward, who is Ojibwa and Métis and originally from Manitoba. “I wanted to use technology to create equitable outcomes for Indigenous people.”
Social impact is a core tenet of his business.
Based in Victoria, Animikii was the first Indigenous business in Canada and the second in North America to become a certified B Corporation. It partners with organizations including the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
One project – online cultural safety training for B.C. health professionals through the Provincial Health Services Authority – has since trained more than 100,000 professionals across Canada.
Animikii recently raised $1 million in financing from Raven Indigenous Capital Partners and the Business Development Bank of Canada, which will help the company grow to 20 employees by the end of 2020.
Birthplace: Treaty 1 Territory (Selkirk, Manitoba)
Where you live now: Lekwungen Territory (Victoria)
Highest level of education: High school
Currently reading: Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance by Edgar Villanueva
Currently listening to: “We Are One” by Mag 7, a collective led by Taboo (Black Eyed Peas) of seven Indigenous artists from different tribes, who came together to show the richness, diversity and beauty of Indigenous Peoples
When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up: Doctor
Profession you would most like to try: Music producer
Toughest business or professional decision: Making the decision to make our first hires and scale up
Advice you would give the younger you: There will never be a perfect time to: start that business, build that product, make those hires. Growth is uncomfortable. Take those risks.Life is short
What’s left to do: Put Indigenous tech on the map in the international tech industry and prove that Indigenous tech can lead to economic prosperity for Indigenous Peoples and our communities
Join us to celebrate the 2019 Forty under 40 Awards on January 30, 2020, at the Westin Bayshore. For tickets and event information visit https://www.biv.com/forty-under-40