Conquering Imposter Syndrome as an Indigenous Founder

I’ve always had a dream of being an entrepreneur, but most of my life, I have lived with imposter syndrome, where I believed that I was not good enough to be in a position of leadership or even be in the spaces I was being welcomed in.

Especially, as a young First Nations woman, imposter syndrome was something that I struggled with throughout all my academic, social and entrepreneurial endeavours. Navigating the entrepreneurial landscape while grappling with imposter syndrome is a multifaceted struggle.

Despite possessing a rich cultural heritage, societal biases and underrepresentation can amplify self-doubt. I’ve learned that within this struggle, lies an opportunity for profound growth and that through opportunities and just going for it, I can transform self-doubt into a catalyst for breaking barriers, reshaping my entrepreneurial journey.

I’ve run a successful beading business for over 10 years, and I thought that was all I
could do as an Indigenous person – craft, artist, culture – which is beautiful, but we often don’t see people like us in technology or innovation-driven spaces. And this is where I want to be.

Changing the Tide with Tribe's Accelerator Program

In the summer of 2021, after completing a BIPOC startup accelerator program through
Tribe, where I won first place in the pitch competition within our group, I was encouraged to
apply and was accepted to the Founder Institute, the world’s largest pre-seed startup accelerator. At the beginning of this four-month course, there were nearly 50 founders, and by the end, I was one of 10 who graduated – and the only Indigenous founder in the course.

Empowering Generations with IndigenUs

Through the course, I incorporated my new business venture, IndigenUs – an online
marketplace platform where Indigenous subject matter experts or Knowledge Carriers, including but not limited to workshop facilitators, educators, keynote speakers, Elders and Indigenous talent, can be part of an inclusive directory to network and get hired with the click of a button.

On our platform, clients such as private or government institutions, corporations, event organizers, and businesses can access to find the right person they’re looking to hire for their
engagements through an inclusive directory that filters by criteria. This is more than just an economic opportunity, it’s an opportunity to be seen, and that alone can be life changing.

My dream has always been to connect communities and provide opportunities to people.
I love my beadwork business, but it wasn’t big enough for me. It wasn’t impacting people in the way I wanted to create an impact.

IndigenUs not only gives Indigenous people opportunities, it opens the door to financial sustainability so that they can potentially have generational wealth that will impact their children and grandchildren, and creating this type of change and impact is something that I want to be a part of.

With this business, I was also selected as a semi-finalist in the 2021 and 2022 Pow Wow Pitch Competition and landed in the top 10 people’s choice award for the first year.

Embracing my Identity beyond Entrepreneurship

Aside from my beadwork and tech business endeavours, I am an artist, a poet and a cultural consultant that has been hired for multiple engagements, but until recently, I have incorrectly considered that a “side hustle.”, I have since realized that it is not. I am not a side hustle.

Creating a personal brand is important to me because it is who I am, and as an artist, poet, consultant and businesswoman, I am selling myself 100% of the time. It’s how we speak to these opportunities and to ourselves and our worth and value, that makes the difference in how others perceive us. 

The more we see Indigenous people out there succeeding in spaces that have generally not been created for us, the more attainable these dreams will be. The most rewarding part about being an entrepreneur is the growth that I’ve seen in myself personally. I realize that I am meant to be doing this. I belong in these spaces, in these competitions, in these meetings. 

At times, the imposter syndrome kicks in, but the ancestors push me forward always.

Photo of Killa in the fields looking away , in a black top with bold letters and a prink skirt and neck scarf with bold long earrings

About The Author

Killa Atencio resides in Kjipuktuk (Halifax), Nova Scotia but is originally from Listuguj First Nation in Mi’gmaq Territory (Quebec, Canada). She shares her voice and culture in many ways – as a poet and spoken word artist, as a visual artist and entrepreneur, and through her work in community, to name a few. Along with her artistic expression, Killa enjoys work that contributes to youth and community development, Indigenous relations and education.

Contact Killa – Linkedin | Instagram