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Sḵwx̱wú7mesh woman takes on Dragons

Leigh Joseph of Sḵwálwen Botanicals is pitching her company on CBC's Dragon's Den.

Back when she was growing up, long before she made her appearance on CBC's Dragon's Den, Leigh Joseph's parents would take her to visit elders' homes.

"I would just sit and absorb the environment and often listen to stories and hear my great aunt and uncle speaking in their Indigneous language," said Joseph.

The Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) member also spent time with her uncle, riding his dugout canoe and helping him around the smokehouse.

"That feeling of being so supported and at ease and connected to those people in my life really translated to me wanting to continue to work with elders, to continue to work with our knowledge."

That, plus her ongoing interest in local plant life lit the spark that would later become Sḵwálwen Botanicals, an Indigenous skincare company that will soon be appearing on CBC's Dragon's Den series.

On Nov. 11, Joseph will be making a pitch to five investors — known as 'the Dragons' — on the show in a bid to raise funds for her enterprise.

Joseph's company specializes in creating skincare products that are derived from local plants. She started off harvesting the ingredients herself in the Squamish area, but has since started to scale up by sourcing some of the materials from small-scale organic farms and plant nurseries.

However, there are still a number of plants that she has to harvest herself, as they aren't available on the market.

The end result is a slew of products that are plant-infused with simple non-chemical ingredients, she said.

"When you utilize products from Sḵwálwen, it's really meant to be a step in your own kind of self-care and connection to what it means to support reconnection to the land," said Joseph, who will be finishing up her PhD in ethnobotany at the University of Victoria in the spring.

"It started with my own personal reconnection to culture through re-engaging with land-based knowledge and experiences through harvesting plants."

Joseph said she'd been thinking about going on Dragon's Den for a while.

She had friends who'd gone on before, including Jenn Harper, who's also an Indigenous entrepreneur.

With encouragement from fellow Indigenous entrepreneurs, Joseph decided that she'd go for it.

The first step of the auditioning process involved an online question and answer period. Usually, these would be in-person, but COVID-19 has changed that, she said.

From there, she had a chance to meet and speak with some of the producers.

"It was just a really enjoyable experience," Joseph said.

When she finally got in front of the Dragons, she said the experience was exciting and nerve-wracking.

Joseph said she had watched the show's last four seasons to get ready for the kinds of questions that would be thrown at her.

She wound up pitching to the Dragons remotely at the Vancouver CBC studio, as circumstances wouldn't allow her to travel to Toronto.

"It was really great. Once it started, they did a really great job with the camerawork. It really felt like an engaging conversation. I didn't feel strange at all. I was really engaged with the process. The Dragons were great. They had such a good way of approaching and just asking questions," said Joseph.

"Super nervous, then it happened, and after I was like, 'Wait, what happened?' It all went by really fast, but it was a good experience, for sure."

Joseph said it's important to acknowledge that Indigenous businesses are underrepresented.

She noted that watching Jenn Harper in a previous Dragon's Den season empowered her to take her own step into the spotlight.

"I hope that my being in that space will also do that for another Indigenous entrepreneur," Joseph said.

She added it's essential to support Indigenous-owned businesses, especially as the holiday season approaches.

Catch Joseph's pitch on Dragon's Den on Thursday, Nov.11, at 8 p.m. on CBC and the CBC Gem streaming service.