An interview with Shyra and Rye Barberstock of Okwaho Equal Source.
Describe your business.
An Indigenous-owned global consultancy and design thinking firm, which specializes in Indigenous social innovation, social enterprise, social finance and social procurement.
What brought you to the region?
Initially, we moved to the region because Rye wanted to return to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory (where he grew up) and because I was pursuing graduate studies at Queen’s University. Now, we love living in the region and plan to stay long term. We have our corporate headquarters in Tyendinaga, and we are both pursuing PhD’s at Queen’s University.
What makes the Bay of Quinte a good fit for your business?
There is a tight-knit business community in the Bay of Quinte region, and it has provided the opportunity to develop strong collaborative relationships. The Bay of Quinte is also in an ideal location because of the proximity to Toronto and Ottawa, allowing us to better serve our regional client base.
What was the hardest thing about starting a business?
In 2013, our biggest challenge was financial; we were unable to access startup capital and had to self-fund our first venture. Now in 2020, our business is thriving, and our biggest challenge is finding a good work-life balance.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs in the area?
Be patient, have persistence and be adaptable. The first business idea may not take off, but it might open the door to other great opportunities. Sometimes it is your customers/clients who will tell you who you are. If you listen and adapt, it can pay off!
What surprised you about starting a business in a smaller community?
Initially, we thought we would need to move to a larger city like Toronto or Ottawa for our consulting company to thrive; however, Okwaho Equal Source has grown into a national and global brand while still maintaining corporate headquarters in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
How have you changed your operations over the past couple of months of the pandemic?
One major change is that all of our client meetings are now conducted online or by phone. This was a major change for us as we had previously enjoyed meeting our clients face-to-face. We had to postpone all of our scheduled in-person workshops, but luckily we still have several projects that we can work on from home.
What is something good that has come from this very difficult situation?
Working from home has helped us to create a better work-life balance: we get enough sleep, exercise 3-5 days a week at home, and our meals are home cooked. (This is a big difference from our previously hectic travel schedule!)
What’s your secret to surviving winter?
We love being self-employed because we have the flexibility of working from home when we want to. When it is snowing outside, we brew up some coffee and enjoy the beauty of winter from the comfort of our home.
If you were to have one word tattooed on you, what would it be?
For Rye, the word would be Resilient. For Shyra, the tattoo would say Be the Perfect Storm (it’s more than one word, but it has a deep significance!).