Erin Creegan-Dougherty had 12 minutes to pitch her business to a panel of judges at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) Canadian national event in Halifax. She was one of eight student finalists chosen from thousands of applicants. Creegan-Dougherty finished third winning $15,000.
“It makes all the difference in the world so for me,” she said. “(The prize money) really allowed me to be able to purchase the equipment that’s necessary to be able to expand my business to have a full time operation and as most people know, when you’re starting business, capital is always the hard thing so it allowed me to push past a lot of those barriers that I had.”
Peter Thomas is a tenured Canadian entrepreneur and a founding member of the Emeritus Entrepreneurs Organization. He started the Thomas GSEA Foundation by donating $1.5 million to the program where the prize money came from for Creegan-Dougherty and the other top five finishers.
“I believe the young entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the body of the economy,” said Thomas. “I really do feel that the growth and that’s one of the reasons I still support it, is because I feel with the growth of these young entrepreneurs into our society and to our economic system, that’s what replenishes and reinvents all the new things that we need to make our society evolve.”
The 27-year-old Mount Royal University student is in her final year of international business with a minor in history. Her passion for cooking was passed down over generations of family. She’s adapted recipes and made up new ones for her business from her.
“So a backcountry food can be dehydrated, freeze dried or prepared foods,” she said. “Something that’s ready for someone to grab and go camping or hiking or really for any outdoor enthusiast.”
BACKCOUNTRY FOOD NEEDS
It all started around 2019 when she worked for a backcountry outfitter who was having difficulty meeting all his clients’ specialty food needs.
“He had a bunch of clients that were coming in that were keto and gluten-free and had all these other restrictions,” she said. “He couldn’t find anything so it was really one of those things that I was like, oh I can make that for you.”
Muskwa Backcountry Foods began as a seasonal, small summertime business, but six months ago it turned into a full-time venture with new and returning clients.
“There’s nothing that stopping anyone who’s not necessarily going deep into the backcountry and just wants to sit around the fire and try something new from our product,” said Creegan-Dougherty. “We always say even though we are backcountry food, we’re something that everyone can like at the same time and that’s sort of the goal of it.”
MUSKWA MEANS BEAR
Creegan-Dougherty is Metis and Muskwa means bear in the Cree language. Her nickname de ella growing up was little bear and in northern BC she worked by the Mighty Muskwa River, so she decided to use the name de ella for her company de ella.
Kym Penner is a family friend who helps Creegan-Dougherty any way she can.
“I’ve gone gluten-free and so Erin will create things in my kitchen and make me taste them good or bad,” she said.
Penner has helped prepare meals for some of the company’s big clients and is happy to support and help the young entrepreneur.
“I do see (the business) going places,” Penner said. “I think there’s a niche there, I mean more and more people are having dietary restrictions and we want to eat decently, we want to eat good food, just because we’re on dietary restriction doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.”
Creegan-Dougherty hopes one day to see her food products sold at majorly backcountry stores and grocery stores one day.
Learn more about Muskwa Backcountry Foods here.