Kendal Netmaker's Story - JEDI Plenary

Kendal Netmaker

When Kendal was very young he lived in a tiny house with his grandmother, mother and three sisters. They didn’t have much money so Kendal often had to make his own fun. He played soccer because it was one of the cheapest sports since all you needed was a ball.

When Kendal was about 10 years old, he moved to a town where he was the lone Aboriginal student in his school. Things were different than he was used to and he had to adapt to new ways of doing things.

At this school, he met a kid from South Africa, Johann Strumpher. They were both interested in sports and soon became fast friends. Johann wanted to know why Kendal wasn’t playing organized sports. Kendal explained that he couldn’t because his family didn’t have the money for him to join a league and he had no transportation to get to practice or games. Johann’s family stepped in to support Kendal’s desire to play sports and when the Strumpher family moved away, they went one step further and gave Kendal’s family their old car.

Kendal Netmaker presentation

Kendal loved sports. Sports helped him feel empowered and it helped increase his confidence. In high school he joined the volleyball team. However, he was so intimidated because he was the only Aboriginal player that he almost quit. Luckily, the coach told him that he had potential and encouraged him to stay on the team. Kendal did so well that he eventually became team captain and got a volleyball scholarship to continue on after high school. He played for two years but had to give it up due to injuries.

Once he could no longer play volleyball, he applied to university to study education and got accepted. During the last year of his degree he started wondering how he could give back like Johann had given to him and how he could help kids who couldn’t play sports for financial reasons. About that time, Kendal heard about a business competition and decided to give his idea of ‘a business that gives back to others’ a shot. However, first he had to figure out how to write a business plan.

Kendal entered and won several business competitions, learning how to hone his pitch along the way. All in all, he won about $35,000 to start his business. He was nervous but he just put himself out there and did it.

In 2011, Kendal decided it was time to jump into his business 110% and take it from a part-time venture to full-time. He knew he would have to sacrifice but he was used to sacrificing things and not having any money. Luckily, his fiancé was a great support system.

First, he got himself an office so he could hold professional business meetings. Then, he entered another competition in a mall and he won a kiosk and advertising for 3 months to start selling his athletic wear. Within about 2 weeks he had sold almost all of his product. The mall saw that he was doing well and encouraged him to take a store in the mall. So Kendal decided to go for it, even though he still wasn’t paying himself yet.

As a business owner, Kendal did everything himself, from painting to setting things up inside the store. But his hard work paid off as now his store is a reality, other retailers are picking up his clothing line, and Neechie Gear has a new website.

One important aspect of the business is that Neechie Gear promotes role models and helps kids. To do this, Kendal contacts people that he knows (and that he feels are role models) and he asks to promote them on his website in exchange for Neechie Gear products. Neechie Gear also supports local kid’s teams and Neechie Gear made its first donation to KidSport, a children’s charity that helps fund kids so they can play sports, in October 2013.

When Kendal first started out in business, he made a lot of mistakes but he learned from them. For example, in the beginning, in his effort to support kids, he was coaching teams but he put so much energy into the coaching that it was taking away from his business. That was when he decided to refocus his energy and partner with KidSport. This partnership allowed him to run his business and still help kids.

Kendal has worked hard to make his business a reality and because of this hard work, many opportunities have come his way. A few of the opportunities were: meeting Prince Charles and presenting him with a gift, being a speaker at WE Day and speaking to 15,000 kids, winning Saskatchewan entrepreneur of the year, being part of the CBC Saskatchewan's Future 40 program, being selected as a member of the University of Saskatchewan Alumni of Influence, and winning a business plan competition in Arizona worth $20,000.

In fact, he wasn’t even going to go to Arizona as it would cost him around $2000 to get there and there was no guarantee of winning. However, he was persuaded to go and he won. His next opportunity is going to Moscow, Russia to represent Canada at the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Congress.

Kendal feels that when you give back, good things come to you. He didn’t expect any of this. He just took every opportunity and went with it.

“I credit all that has happened in my life to my fans,” said Kendal during his keynote speech. “The first thing I learned at a very young age, was to use my gifts. My gifts helped to transform my life.”

Kendal didn’t have many friends, was faced with a lot of negativity, and was told that his ideas were stupid. So he decided that he needed to cut the negativity out of his life. That’s when he started associating himself with business people and other entrepreneurs. He created his own positive circle of people who had the same mind-set that he had. 

Kendal also decided that he couldn’t walk around in sweat pants. He had to be and act professional so that people would take him seriously.

“Everyone is a brand,” said Kendal. “People will judge you.”

In grade 10, Kendal listened to a speaker at school who inspired him. The speaker spoke about some things that resonated with Kendal and at that time he thought, “One day I’m going to be a speaker and inspire people too.”

“Learn from everyone,” advises Kendal. “The best learning experience comes from listening.”

Kendal closed his session by sharing some final advice.

“You’re going to be scared, that’s natural. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask people out for coffee, most people will say yes. Mentors are willing to share their knowledge, people want to share with you. And also Google resources, look for competitions and then research them and apply for them. Put in the work. Nothing is easy. It won’t feel too hard as long as you love it. Don’t do it for the purpose of making money, do it because you love it.”