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Our Story: Growing A Successful Family Business Against All Odds

Shelly Mandeville, CEO of Naoka Inc, didn’t start her career journey with her sights set on entrepreneurship, but clearly, she was destined to become one. Now, with a couple decades of experience under her belt, Shelly is the owner and director of several successful business ventures.

When reflecting on her journey that led her here, Shelly mentions a fond memory she shared with one of her daughters that in hindsight was a seedling along the way to entrepreneurship.

My daughter Naoka, 8 years old at the time, asked me how companies such as Gucci or Prada became so popular. I explained to her that a long time ago, the family started a business that grew into what it is today. Both names, Gucci and Prada, are representations of the family that started the legacy. To that, Naoka responded that she would like to be famous just like Gucci and Prada. And so, the seeds were planted long before the business was ever conceived.

After her first career in an Indigenous organization then pursuing her education, Shelly started her career in management consulting. During that time, she came across the book “Dances with Dependency” by Calvin Helin which offers effective strategies to eliminate welfare dependency and poverty among Indigenous populations. This novel paired immediately with Shelly’s already developed passion for empowering Indigenous people and communities. Shelly was, and continues to be, a majority shareholder in In Synch Consulting Inc. which was already doing a lot of work with First Nations and Métis communities,

We were already in the communities working on business development, capacity building, financial aspects, and all kinds of strategy. After reading Helin’s book, it changed my perspective on seeing opportunities that help improve the economic development of our Indigenous communities which were facing staggering welfare issues. At the time, Alberta had something like a 4% unemployment rate and within some of the Indigenous communities, we were seeing unemployment rates as high as 95%. Obviously, something needed to be done.

Shelly saw and understood that there was a unique opportunity to build a business in a community where there was such a strong need. After partnering with a couple other interested parties, the idea behind the business was born. But as all successful stories of entrepreneurship, the journey was not all smooth sailing.

After investing heavily in the business model and collaborating with the other interested parties, dynamics changed and Shelly found herself in a situation where she knew the only way through the trials they were facing was to commandeer the ship and take full reins of the business. After settling financially with her former colleagues, completely revamping the production process, and creating a line of products that could be locally manufactured within the community, Naoka Inc. came into its fully realized potential.

So the backstory of Naoka is, it's a family story. It's a story of struggle. And it's a story of “it's just got to happen”. I was willing to take the risk and, of course, in those first years, oh wow, there was blood, there was sweat and there were tears. But now, I’ve created a legacy for my daughters, and my grandchildren.

The story of Naoka Inc. is truly the story of an evolving journey of Shelly’s lived experience and her ability to understand and execute on tangible needs within her community. Now, with a continued focus on legacy building, Shelly dedicates her time to helping her family learn how to run and build their own personal business ventures.

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