Jolene Laskey of Tobique First Nation has been making waves in the local food industry with her new business, Wabanaki Maple, a maple syrup processing facility that specializes in unique flavours.
Jolene is not new to entrepreneurship, she is already an established businesswoman with her own construction company. However, in 2017, she wanted to develop a new business that was more closely related to her culture, and using her experience in the culinary industry as a starting point, Wabanaki Maple was born. “I love being connected to my roots and I wanted to pursue a business that would allow me to share my Indigenous culture with others. Connecting that natural resource and my experience with food was neat. We’ve been moving forward from there.”
Syrup flavours include toasted oak, whiskey, bourbon and classic maple. “Those are our initial product offering(s) but we will be developing and creating more infused products and items like confectionary, maple creams and sugar as we go,” says Jolene.
The future is looking bright for Wabanaki Maple as they have just partnered up with Canada’s Smartest Kitchen. Jolene says she’s looking forward to their partnership, “they’ve done some initial testing and they loved our products. They’re going to be working quite closely with us to help us develop some newer ones. With their expertise I know we’re going to have some great products coming out.”
Jolene credits the Business Incubator program offered by the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI) as being a major contributor to the success of her business. She adds, “without their help I wouldn’t have the confidence to be able to do what I’m doing. To have that experience, knowledge, resources and tools to be able to move forward in a positive way so that I can build this business to be successful has been amazing for me.”
She also credits Jean-Francois Mallet and Melissa Lunney of JEDI and Sally Ng and Frank Erschen, facilitators of the Incubator program, for being such hands-on mentors. She continues by saying, “I know that the door is always open to seek them out for advice, you really can’t do better than these professional business mentors.”
Jolene says, “The best part of owning Wabanaki Maple is having the opportunity to build and grow a business that allows for me share a piece of our culture and be able to contribute back to community and the environment in a positive way.”
In reflecting on some of the challenges she’s faced in developing her business, Jolene says technology has been one of the biggest barriers. She continues, “my previous employment never really required me to be technologically-advanced, so it’s been a challenge getting the hang of it. But I’m doing it and I’m very grateful for it.”
When asked if she has any advice for other entrepreneurs, Jolene answers with, “follow your dreams and desires, trust your intuition, make sure to ask questions, move beyond fear or doubt and do what inspires you. Lastly, just think of the phrase "it's progress not perfection"--and go for it!"