Coffee benefits communities — and bears

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Summer 2014
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"Coffee makes space for the human connection," says Paul Biglin, co-owner of Spirit Bear Coffee.

Paul Biglin, co-owner of Spirit Bear Coffee, is a passionate advocate for community development. He's also passionate about good coffee.

"Coffee can do something technology can't; it's a way for people to look into each other's eyes and get an idea of who they really are," said Biglin. "Coffee makes space for the human connection."

When the vision of a sustainable coffee came to Biglin, it wasn't just about perfectly roasted beans. It was also about the power of a purchase to make a difference for individuals, communities, and the environment.

Organic, fair trade coffee that gives back to the source is the driving force behind the pure Arabica beans Paul sells across British Columbia. The communities where the coffee is grown benefit from the sales, as do the First Nation communities which has entrusted Biglin's company with their stories and cultural symbols. In return for the use of the spirit bear name to brand its company, Spirit Bear Coffee donates a percentage of their profits to the Great Bear Conservancy and also supports wildlife sanctuaries across Canada.

Bill Helin, brand designer and partner in the company, is a member of the Tsimshian Nation and the team's link to the Tsimshian community and culture. Since Spirit Bear coffees helps raise awareness of First Nation culture, Bill seeks input from Tsimshian elders when a new design element is being considered. Every new coffee roast is linked to a coastal First Nations story and named after a symbolic animal.

Over the past five years, Spirit Bear has expanded to more than 300 venues across Canada, parts of the United States, and even earned the role of official coffee of Whistler-Blackcomb and Metro Vancouver Parks and Recreation. This small, four-person company seizes opportunities to build long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.

Spirit Bear Coffee also provides opportunities for young First Nations entrepreneurs to gain experience in the hospitality industry. Through their coffee program, organizations can create a "pop-up coffee shop" and sell coffee at events. The people operating the pop-up shops then have the option of turning this temporary arrangement into a longer-term business opportunity.

Spirit Bear Coffee supports young First Nations entrepreneurs through its "pop-up coffee shop" program.

Spirit Bear can credit some of its success to Aboriginal Business Match (ABM). When Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and the Penticton Indian Band initiated the annual event in 2010, it was a revolutionary opportunity for First Nation businesses — and businesses looking to do business with First Nations — to come together and network in fast, focused meetings. For many participants, these meetings have resulted in both on-the-spot deals and future partnerships.

"Meeting face-to-face and connecting with others is how we communicate our standards and goals," said Biglin. "Networking is an essential to our business."

Spirit bears play an important role in the culture of West coast First Nations. The spirit bear (Kermode bear), which lives on the central and north coast of British Columbia, Canada, is a subspecies of the North American Black Bear. About 10 per cent of Kermode bears have white or cream-coloured coats.

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