A new program designed to give aboriginal students the skills they need to run a business was launched Thursday in Saskatoon.

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin took the podium at Oskayak High School to announce the expansion of the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program to 17 schools across Saskatchewan.

The program has already been running at Oskayak High School and Scott Collegiate in Regina for a few years now, and the program has data to back up their success.

According to the Saskatchewan School Board Association, the program has been successfully completed by dozens of students.

“Entrepreneurship was never really a question for me,” said Laryn Oaks, a grade 12 student at Oskayak who finished the first half of the class last year. For Oaks, the chance to learn about running a business meant imagining for the first time that she could grow up and be her own boss.

“Kids aren’t going to go into business unless someone opens the door and says ‘this is what that’s all about,’” Paul Martin told reporters after the announcement.

From book keeping to marketing, the two-class program teaches students the skills they need to run their own businesses.

“In my view, this is very much about opportunity,” Martin said.

Funding for the program is shared by the federal government and corporate sponsors Potash Corp and RBC.

In Grade 11, students spend a semester learning business terms and lay out a business plan. The next year, they’re given $500 to make their plan a reality.

The classes also connect kids with First Nations and Metis business leaders in their community to give them first-hand advice on how to run a successful company.

John Lagimodiere is one of the mentors for students in Saskatoon. He’s the publisher of the aboriginal-focused Eagle Feather News. He’s also Metis.

“A lot of our people, because of our hard history in Canada, have been out of the labour market and the entrepreneurial world. And to see more of our people in there gives them (students) hope and something to aspire to,” Lagimodiere said.

The text books for the class were specially created for this program. As far as officials know, they’re the first business text books ever created from a First Nations and Metis perspective.

The program is now in 17 schools in nine school divisions in Saskatchewan, but officials hope that going forward, it will be in all 28 divisions across the province.