01/22/2014 02:16 EST | Updated 03/24/2014 05:59 EDT

First Nations youth wins Vegas trip to pitch business idea

A youth from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba has won a free Las Vegas trip.

But Kelly Edwards, 21, isn’t going for a fun vacation. He’ll be competing in the 28th Annual National Reservation Economic Summit, and going after a $20,000 start-up prize for his business idea.

Inspired by Donald Trump, Edwards rose to the top of his class in the Youth Entrepreneurship Education Training program, at University of Winnipeg’s Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre. That’s where he successfully pitched his plan.

“I was kind of nervous going in because I was presenting to the Chambers of Commerce and [instructor] Wab Kinew. It was my first time doing any sort of pitch [and] I went over my 10-minute limit," Edwards said.  

“The judges came back from the next room [and] told me I won. I wasn’t sure how to take it in because I’ve never won anything like this."

His plan includes a boutique hotel and restaurant in Winnipeg. The development would be built as a renovation of an existing building, part of a former army base in Winnipeg.

Kinew is Edwards' mentor and business class instructor. Kinew convinced Edwards to think of a plan that would have a positive cultural, environmental and socio-economic impacts.   

“We’re trying to teach students how to think about the business from an indigenous perspective," Kinew stated in a press release about the program.

“Anyone can make money but it’s up to you if you want to make a social impact with your business,” said Edwards.

He believes that a boutique hotel will be well received by the surrounding Tuxedo and River Heights neighbourhoods and will help the six First Nations and aboriginal investors become more self-sustaining.

Edwards’ pitch includes funding his business through capital, low interest, free-interest loans and grants from organizations that help fund aboriginal business, and potentially private investors

Contingent on disputed land ruling

The location for Kelly's proposed hotel is tied up in a land dispute, so it is contingent on an upcoming federal court ruling to decide whether six Manitoba first nations, all from Treaty 1, will win their case for transfer of land for development of an urban reserve.

First Nations and the federal government have been locked in dispute over the former Kapyong Canadian Forces base since 2004.  

The Federal Court of Appeal last heard arguments on January 13 and expected to make a decision about the surplus land in January.

Until then Edwards is hoping for the good news that must come before he competes at the National Reservation Economic Summit, hosted by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.