Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow is the founder of Birch Bark Coffee Company, a company that promises excellence with each sip of coffee while also promising to give back to Indigenous communities. Mark is Ojibwe and a Band Member of Whitefish River First Nation, located on Birch Island, Ontario. Birch Bark Coffee Company provides Indigenous communities with clean drinking water for free. Community, culture, connection, and coffee are at the heart of this business. Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow answers a few questions below about his best advice for fellow entrepreneurs, starting and sustaining a business, and what is essential for his business.
Birch Bark Coffee Company offers different flavors and roasts. Mark uses cars as a metaphor for the quality, taste, and experience of Birch Bark Coffee Company. Like driving a nicer car is a completely different and an enhanced experience than other cars, so is Birch Bark Coffee’s experience; “When you combine some of the best coffee in the world with fresh roasting and that is put in front of you (the exotic car) it’s hard to go back to that hmmm, well you know, the brands.”
“Get inspired because every adversity contains a seed of an equal or greater benefit!”Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow
Mark says that the business was born out of passion centered on change and ”’frustration’ that things were not being accomplished in our world. As First Nations people we are visionaries and we sometimes look to dreams and thoughts to guide us. I guess there is a bit of that in there for me. I had no idea about retail or the coffee business or how it would remotely even attach to the water crisis.” Mark began to bring these different elements together and had people help him lay the foundation to get started.
The group of people to help bring the company’s vision to fruition were all women. Mark wrote, “That was purposely done and because women bring us into this world and place us on Mother Earth and each of us is born within water.” Water is central to Birch Bark Coffee Company’s mission, bringing safe and pure drinking water to Indigenous communities and resonates meaning for the company. According to Birch Bark Coffee Company’s website, “As we continue to pollute our waters with contaminates, our water continues to struggle as it tries to purify itself. Water in so many ways is connected to our very existence, yet we forget water to be one of our greatest medicines.”
Since 2018 when Mark first started, the business has been growing rapidly. Mark says, “It is a lot of gratitude for sure and you must stay grounded. While I do not have a large team yet, my plans are to scale up and continue not to look back and be a mentor and inspiration to future social enterprises and entrepreneurs.”
In one word, what lies at the core of you business? Please explain.
“Compassion—Caring enough to be a voice of many—I have created a business model to what I refer to as the ‘Indigenous Inclusion Continuum Business Model’ where as a social enterprise you create a lineage, a spectrum for inclusivity. On one end of the spectrum you have the Indigenous men and women Producers of Birch Bark Coffee to the consumers around the world who want to give back to the Indigenous families; we do this for the people, we provide employment at Flower Cart who put all our labels on by hand. A social enterprise that is cause-driven with a pay-it-forward attitude…Voila.”
What is your best advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
“Believe in yourself, believe in what you are doing and want to do. Have a purpose and align it with attainable goals.”
What is your best advice for getting started and then sustaining that growth?
“Do your homework on startups and talk to people that are successful. Why? Because is that not where you wish to be, no matter what success you wish to receive? It does not have to be monetary. It can be personal growth! Growth happens when you treat yourself, your business, and people around you with love, compassion and a nurturing framework. I share with people who ask to think of themselves as a new sapling growing in the ground and to treat everything they do the same way they would help that young tree grow. Feed it water, make sure it has sunlight and good soil so that it can build a foundation of good roots. The roots are what give security, balance, and a platform for the growth and then from there you will have a strong, vibrant and healthy tree. Very similar to the way we need to treat everything we do as human beings.”
From your founder’s page, “Birch Bark Coffee Co. endeavors to be a revenue-generating business with a twist that maintains a balance between Indigenous social missions and the productivity of the coffee venture.” Do you have any advice for combining a business offering a product or service while keeping its mission centered on supporting efforts to improve and aid communities and environments?
“Never let anyone tell you you cannot make money! It is within your heart and your purpose that drives your integrity and your values and beliefs are owned by you and what you have learned in your lived experiences. Be the change that so many people talk about but never do! And inspire people, that it is ok to make a living, to provide for you family, but also give back because understanding this philosophy of business is ultimate success not just for everyone but the very planet we are on ensuring that our next generations have a proper understanding of sustainability and ethics.”
What do you think of Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow’s message for entrepreneurs? Let us know down in the comments.
This article originally published on GREY Journal.