Native Business Grows With Values and Guidance
Friday, February 07 2014
Written by Alfred Walking Bull,
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native_business_grows_with_values_and_guidance-web.jpgBusiness continued to grow in the Minneapolis Native American community with the latest class of graduates from the Fall 2013 Plan It! Entrepreneur Training Program on Jan. 16.

The program is offered by Bii Gii Wiin Community Development Loan Fund, which was established to promote home ownership throughout the Native community in Minnesota, in partnership with Neighborhood Development Center. Eight students in the program spent 11 weeks, meeting at Bii Gii Wiin offices on Franklin Avenue, learning how to start a business and complete their business plans.

The ties between the program and the Native business community run deep. Mike Goze, American Indian Community Development Corporation CEO, has a personal and rewarding relationship with the program. “A number of years ago, my son Tony when through this exact same class and we started a company and this year we did somewhere between 6 and 7 million dollars worth of work. The kind of business you want is a profitable one. That is the key.”

He told graduates that aside from profitability, keeping their reasons for starting a business was important in guiding their work. “Speaking from experience, sometimes work and profit don't mean the same thing. And working harder, doesn't make it better, it's like digging a hole. You don't want to dig faster. As you're looking at business, make sure you're looking at profit, because that makes a business successful, it's not how much you do, it's how much you make. Especially as you talk with your kids and your family, because that's who you do it for. It is to make a better life for you and the people coming after you.”

Goze continued to draw cultural parallels. “I truly believe that as Native folks – and non-Native folks – that entrepreneurism is in our life. I used to be a ranger for the National Parks Service. I dealt with prehistoric Indian burial mounds from 500 B.C. And we found articles in those burial mounds that were from all parts of this country … because of commerce. People were trading. And so, our culture, our life is all about commerce, it's about trading, it's about growth. And you can turn that into a livelihood that you can live with.”

An alum from the Spring 2012 program, Vaughn Lodge, spoke to graduates about the love and dedication he commits to his business, Dog Soldier MMA. “For me, it's never been about the profit. It's been about the community building. One of the exciting things and the thing I loved about Bii Gii Wiin and NDC was that they make this program available to people that want to start their own business.”native_business_grows_with_values_and_guidance-web2.jpg

He provided the aspiring entrepreneurs some guidance on the realities of being a business owner. “Another reason why I started my own business was to have this freedom. Little did I know that as soon as I graduated from this class and started hitting the road running, it was insane. So you're going to be looking at 15 or 16 hour days, depending on what your industry is. You're the marketing manager, you're the accountant, you're keeping the books … it's so much work. But in the back of your mind, you're always thinking, 'this is my goal, this is my dream, this is what I love doing.'”

Lodge emphasized the nature of self-sufficiency in creating a business that entrepreneurs love. “It's a learning process. So in 15 hours a day, you're looking at doing everything. I literally bought a futon and blankets and put it in the gym because I would crash out there, I was so tired. Because I was teaching classes, going to other schools to learn, continuing education. But then also coming back in the morning to do book work, marketing, I mean everything, you have to do it all.”

He reminded graduates that it's important to care about what they do. “This is all on you, so one of the things I keep in the back of my mind is that there is not a single person on this planet who is going to love your business as much as you, not a single person. This is your business, your baby, so nurture it, take care of it.”

Isabel Chanslor, program trainer and NDC Business Lab Director, also emphasized the need to support each others' business efforts. “Each of you are going to need the support of one another. I want to be sure that you guys support each other. Entrepreneurism is not easy. For me, this is a Native American class in a Native American community. To create a community around you that lives where you live, looks and talks like you is really important. There’s a lot of bias out there and a narrative that’s been created that Native entrepreneurs have to work to break.”

Graduate Scott Lumbar was one of those to offer assistance to classmates. “My main business idea is to open a successful IT and computer repair shop for low-income families and non-profits that need smaller services. I just want it to be successful in the community.” Referring to Lodge, Scott identified with the relentless effort that made the journey to being a small business owner worth it. “I’d like to be success story like these guys and have something to show for all of my hard work."

Scott was able to secure a micro-loan to start up his business while participating in the class. “I was looking for someone to help me with a jump start, to show me what I needed.” When it came to the details of his plan, Scott was looking for in-depth assistance, something his trainer was able to provide him through Plan It! “I tried taking business classes before, but I didn’t have the right guidance and it wasn’t the closeness that we had here at NDC.”

Looking back on his participation in the Plan It! program, Scott reflected that he feels most accomplished with the completion of his business plan and that it is a useful tool for anyone to have. “You can refer to it, if you get lost you can look back on it, and you can expand on your ideas from there. It’s just a great resource to have.” Overall Scott found his journey was rewarding. “I’m glad that I completed the program. One of my goals for myself is to always complete what I start. It makes me feel like I did what I needed to do,” he said.

Goze spoke highly of NDC and the connections graduates of the Plan It! Program can make, “I can't speak enough about them. They have been there when we needed them the most. I hope you never get in that position, but if you do, you've got to have partners … that have knowledge. And knowledge comes in many ways, resources, technical and financial. They have expertise.”

This isn't my first rodeo in the business world. So I've had experiences that some I learned from and some I didn't because I didn't pay attention,” Goze continued. “But I'm a person that believes in abundance. Don't limit yourself by yourself. Don't limit what you can do by what you do. Think big, think smart. And make sure that you have people in your corner that can help. I believe that by being smart, by taking this first step, taking the time to learn … and keeping the connection alive will help you be successful in your lives.”

The Spring 2014 Plan It! Program will accept applications until Feb. 21. Anyone interested in applying for can visit or call 651-379-8116.

Adjoa Akofio-Sowah, Neighborhood Development Corporation contributed to this story.

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