These two friends and business owners have been working with Pattern Canada on the Lanfine Wind project since the start, and they’ve learned a lot about the renewable energy industry, and each other, along the way.
Christopher Poitras and Michael Stafford own and operate Akoda Land Ltd., a full-service land and lease acquisition firm. When a project or development is looking for land to lease, Christopher and Michael bring landowners and developers together.
They started their business several years ago.
“We were working together at a different land brokerage company and we decided to leave and start our own company in 2015,” says Christopher.
“When we first started, we were looking to get into a different kind of land base outside of the oil and gas industry. This was because the oil and gas market was going a bit awry on the land side of things, so we were looking for different avenues,” he says.
“We spent several months researching different industries including renewable energy and that’s the direction we chose to go. Lanfine Wind was our first project as independent contractors,” Michael explains. “It’s been seven years now and a great learning experience. We’re always learning on the job.”
Lanfine Wind was the first project they took on when they started Akoda Land.
“It’s nice because we were here for the start of this project and now we’re coming through to the completion of the project,” Christopher says.
It’s All About People
While the land is a big part of their business, it’s really all about working with others.
“We work with people, basically public relations. We’re not necessarily dealing with sales, but rather a lot of land acquisition, or getting different access rights for the projects to continue the way they need to, as well as a lot of consultation and communication,” Michael explains.
“Building relationships with project landowners and bringing them through to whatever we’re constructing or whatever the development is on those lands,” Christopher continues.
Years before a turbine goes up, companies like Akoda Land are making connections and finding locations for the structures.
“We start with working out and negotiating the land contracts between landowners. There’s a variety of what landowners need and different specifications with their land. So we meet with them on negotiating parameters. After the land is acquired, we typically go into development permit consultation where we talk to any landowners within a certain proximity to the project to make sure any questions or concerns they may have been addressed,” Michael says.
Starting a Business
Becoming a business owner wasn’t something Michael ever saw in his future.
“I was adamant against it. I just never wanted to be a business owner. I always wanted to be an employee, to move up the corporate ladder in an organization. But when the opportunity to start a business arose, it changed my perspective,” Michael says.
As co-workers back in 2015, the pair were frequently discussing ways they could improve on their work.
“We talked a lot about the opportunities that were available that we couldn’t chase on our own. It was also the thought about having the processes and procedures done in our own way. That’s kind of what drove me to want to do things on my own,” says Michael.
It’s a bit of a different story for Christopher who was influenced by entrepreneurship at a young age.
“My dad was self-employed and an entrepreneur so I figured that at some point in my life that I would start a business,” says Christopher.
But it was actually Michael who came to Christopher about starting Akoda Land, who eventually said yes.
Indigenous Owned and Operated
Christopher’s father’s experience with business and Indigenous relations gave him some insight.
“My dad was a general contractor, so he owned and operated his own renovation and improvement company. He built all our houses growing up and he did all the renovations. After that, he got into Aboriginal relations work—that was about 25 years ago. He did a lot of work with various First Nations across the province of Alberta,” Christopher says.
Learning from his father’s experience working with Indigenous communities was helpful for Christopher and Michael.
“First Nations are an important part of our history. There’s been a lot of contention between industry and First Nations communities. Chris having the experience from both the Aboriginal side and the industry side is definitely helpful in going through the process with both sides,” Michael says.
“We’re an Aboriginally-owned business. I’m a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta and they actually helped get me into the land game. The Métis Nation supported me through the Land Administration Certificate program and assisted in securing employment upon completion. I started working for a company but quickly realized I was more interested in the agent side of things rather than administration. So they supported me and helped me get a Land Agent license,” Christopher explains.
Putting People First
While their company is small, Christopher and Michael are focused on building and maintaining relationships with the people and communities they work with.
“Akoda is owner-operated and it’s still just the two of us. We’ve got some administrative support that we’ll bring in from time to time, though,” Christopher says.
“Going from being an employee to an owner, we could see the difference in the level of care of the work. We want to maintain that—that the people on the ground, the people the clients see, are the owners that are signing their names to things. That’s important to us to maintain that,” Michael explains.
“We have a vested interest in doing a good job for our clients,” Christopher says.
Christopher and Michael both grew up and live in Alberta. While they share many things in common, they have some differences.
“I think what’s good about Chris and I is that we have a complementary skill set. There are things that I know I’m weak at, but that Chris is very strong at, and vice versa. So we can rely on each other for our weaknesses,” Michael explains.
“And we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so we can use that to Akoda Land’s advantage,” Christopher says.
While they started off as coworkers, then co-owners, they have also become friends.
“We’ve worked well together for the past seven years and almost ten years since we met,” Michael says.