David Sharpe, Law’95, a Mohawk from the Bay of Quinte First Nation near Deseronto, Ontario, has defied the odds in carving out a successful career as a lawyer and entrepreneur. Now he has a bold plan to help Canada’s First Nations take advantage of opportunities in the country’s high-growth cannabis sector.
Sharpe, CEO of Toronto-based Bridging Finance Inc., has teamed-up with American partner MJardin Group to establish an infrastructure fund to provide First Nations with access to capital for business ventures in the production, marketing and distribution of marijuana when it is legalized in Canada on July 1.
Bridging Finance, founded in 2012 by Sharpe’s wife and business partner Natasha (Hilfer) (Artsci’93, MA’95), offers private-debt financing to small- and medium-sized businesses across North America – typically anywhere from $3 million up to $50 million. Since Sharpe’s December 2016 appointment as company CEO, Bridging Finance has become known as the “go to” source of capital for First Nations economic development. “We’re not inherently into backing initiatives in the cannabis sector,” he says, “but we foresaw huge opportunities for First Nations economic development in this area.”
Sharpe, who got a BA at the University of Guelph prior to enrolling at Queen’s Law in 1992, subsequently graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School with an LLM in securities law, earned an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western, and worked in the corporate sector for two decades prior to joining Bridging Finance. Early in his career, he never hid his Indigenous heritage, but he never publicized it. “It was a different time. I just wanted to fit in and do my best to survive on Bay Street,” he recalls.
He did that and more, proving he has what it takes to succeed in both the corporate and legal worlds. Nowadays, at age 52 and with his career firmly established, he “feels equally at home in a boardroom or in a sweat lodge.” And so he’s tirelessly devoting himself to leadership and mentoring roles with First Nations people. He’s Chair Emeritus of the Board of Governors of the First Nations University of Canada, while at Queen’s Law he serves as a member of the Dean’s Council, as an Aboriginal Ambassador Student Recruitment, and as the instructor in the First Nations Negotiation course. However, it’s in his capacity as CEO of Bridging Finance that Sharpe feels he can really make an immediate difference.
For one thing, he’s eager to create jobs for First Nations, particularly young people – for example, he hired Jason Mercredi, Law’18, to work at the company prior to attending Queen’s Law. And Bridging Finance has provided loans to back the purchase of an Arctic fishing trawler by an Inuit-owned corporation, the building of housing and elders’ apartments in northern Manitoba, a wind farm and a hockey rink in Quebec, and the opening of a full-scale grocery store/pharmacy – the first ever – in the remote New Brunswick Elsipogtog First Nation community, 245 km northeast of Fredericton.
Sharpe hails Bridging Finance’s infrastructure fund agreement with MJardin Group as being an “exciting new initiative” both for his company and for Canada’s First Nations communities, one that promises to grow cannabis-sector opportunities and good jobs for First Nations. Denver-based MJardin, which now also has a Toronto office, is the world’s largest legitimate cannabis producer and an industry leader.
“MJardin provides its partners with turn-key cultivation and processing solutions for large-scale, professionally managed cannabis production,” says Sharpe. “First Nations across Canada are expressing strong interest in getting into the business.”
By Ken Cuthbertson
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