Harvard Kennedy Grad Gabrielle Scrimshaw Intends to Start an Investment Firm for Indigenous Business

Over the past decade, Scrimshaw has studied international business and policy across six continents. (Photo by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer, Courtesy Scrimshaw)

“For me, the problem that kept me up at night was related to indigenous well-being, and I felt like I could make a difference,” said Gabrielle Scrimshaw, an indigenous professional with a passion for creating social impact.

That feeling propelled Scrimshaw, a member of the Hatchet Lake First Nation, to go after her dreams.

Scrimshaw was raised in a single parent household in a northcentral Saskatchewan indigenous community of 800 people. A first generation student, she graduated top of her class from the University of Saskatchewan in 2010, and then landed a position at the Royal Bank of Canada in a graduate leadership program — as the program’s first associate without a graduate degree. While working at the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto, she founded the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada, dedicated to advancing aboriginal leadership across Canada in the private, public, and social sectors.

Scrimshaw went on to earn her MBA at Stanford and her MPA at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, where she just graduated in May 2018.

“I had limited exposure to how things work in the United States, so I wanted to use my experience at Harvard as a foot in the door to learn, connect and grow,” Scrimshaw said.

Through her time at Harvard, Scrimshaw has become incredibly convinced of “the potential to make a massive impact by helping out indigenous communities through starting businesses. So many of them are ready for this type of investment,” Scrimshaw said. “They just might need help starting out the business or getting capital to start the business. But it could help them become more economically independent.”

Now she’s on a mission: to start an investment firm for tribal and First Nations businesses and indigenous entrepreneurs.

NBM: As you transition from school to starting your investment firm, what are your next steps?  

Scrimshaw: I’m reaching out to people who have started investment businesses. I’m talking to potential investors and mentors; I’m reaching out to communities to see what their challenges are and how I can be helpful.

NBM: Who is your ideal client?

Scimshaw: In the last 30 years, we’ve seen a massive economic upswing for indigenous communities across North America, but it’s a spectrum. You have some communities who are remote and rural. They face many different challenges—whether they be social or economic—and they’re still trying to find their footing.

On the other hand, you have different communities who have hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, that have great infrastructure. There’s a whole spectrum.

I want to focus on these communities in the middle. I’d like to help all communities one day, but I think when you start anything, it helps to have a focus. For me, this focus is the communities who have some strong governance, have good leadership in the community, and are ready now either to start diversifying their income or just thinking about different businesses.

On the other side, there are many potential investors who want to help indigenous communities, or they want to learn more and diversify their investment portfolio. I’m still figuring out how those pieces of the puzzle are going to come together.

I feel like I’m narrowing in on it. It’s not a question of if there’s potential; it’s the structure.

I’ve been lucky enough in my career, that I have the skills, the access and the network to help them do that.

The more I lean into this space, the more I’m convinced of the potential, and I’m so excited and motivated to spend the next several years focused on this.

NBM: What is your ultimate goal with the investment firm?

Scrimshaw: My goal is to be able to provide tribes and First Nations with ultimate ownership of the business, so that they can define success and have control of their economic and social future.

The goal is to help them build and start the business, and maybe after five years, they buy the majority of the equity back, so that they have ultimate control.