you are welcome breaking the blueprint – A blog series that highlights the unique business challenges and opportunities of underrepresented business owners and entrepreneurs. Learn how they’ve grown or scaled their businesses, explored entrepreneurial ventures within their companies, or created side hustles, and how their stories can inspire and inform your success.
It’s no secret that original entrepreneurs face an uphill battle when starting their business. Indigenous businesses face barriers at nearly every step of the process, whether it’s a lack of access to credit, trouble getting technical support or training, or a cultural barrier between investors’ expectations and the business owner’s goals.
Yet some business owners keep moving forward, overcoming all the obstacles that come their way to become successful in their respective fields.
Amid increased federal and tribal support, Native entrepreneurs have moved into many industries with profitable, influential businesses, and Native people are seeing themselves represented in more areas of the business world. In this post, I’ll introduce you to three homegrown entrepreneurs you need to know about.
Three original entrepreneurs in different fields
1. Amber Booker, Totem
Amber Buecker, a tribal member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, knew she needed a bank focused specifically on Native American needs and experiences when she discovered an “invisible gap” in traditional banking when trying to buy a home. walked.
Booker faced rejection from major banking institutions, primarily because none of them were aware of, or at least did not apply, federal support available for Native American home loans. “It was a broken process where I felt really invisible,” she said. “My tribe had a down payment program, but my bank refused to help me use it.”
This represents Booker’s extensive experience with banks, even though he started working in the industry through a friend’s business. The realities for Native Americans mean that basic security policies, such as refusing to mail debit cards to PO boxes, hinder people’s ability to use traditional banks and, by extension, access the broader economy. (Not everyone on the reservation has a personal mailbox – meaning some Native people won’t be able to get a debit card at all).
Because of this, Native Americans have become the most unbanked demographic per capita in the United States, Booker said, with 16 percent of people completely disconnected from the banking system, according to a report by Bankrate.com.
However, under Bueckers guidance, fintech and banking company Totem plans to change that.
By building a bank that understands the lived experiences of Native users, Totem will foster Native people’s engagement with a system that often fails them. To date, the company has introduced spending accounts that are not only accessible online but also designed to withstand the fluctuations in connectivity and weak signals that often plague rural Native tribal members living in remote reservation lands. Create challenges for.
“We wanted a secure, free account into which profits can be deposited, and we also prioritize features that maintain core values,” Booker said. “Sending money from Totem account to Totem account is free and instant. For example, at times aunty needs Rs 20, so being able to share money is extremely important.
Totem also provides information and resources on what types of support exist for original home buyers, health care users, and even utility assistance – and that’s just the beginning. As for its next steps, Totem wants to help tribal governments deliver benefits and payments directly to citizens, bypassing existing intermediaries like paper checks and pre-paid cards. Through Totem, more tribal members will get to keep a greater share of their profit dollars.
“A prepaid card doesn’t give you regulation protection, or have FDIC insurance, or have an easily obtained replacement. These are all the things that make banks so valuable in the first place,” Booker said. “We want to tackle the root of the problem, which is access to good, safe banking products.”
2. Justin Quis Quis, Sacred Bev
Justin Quis Quis spent a long time as a member of the leadership of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians near San Bernardino, California. When his time helping lead his tribe came to an end, he knew he wanted to move on and push new boundaries.
In this example, it was functional beverages – think energy drinks or herbal teas. Quis Quis took a look at an exploding functional drinks market and saw room for Native presence. They identified where they could leverage Indigenous traditional thinking in a product by drawing attention to the fact that Indigenous peoples are still part of modern life.
“I’ve been exposed to Indian Country from coast to coast, so I’ve seen a lot of areas where tribal communities need the spotlight, and people need to know not only the struggles but also the successes,” Quis Quis said. “I noticed there wasn’t enough exposure.”
Quis Quis secured some financial investors and partners and started Sacred Bev, which is headquartered in San Diego. The company’s first three flavors – Immunity, Wellness and Tranquility – launched earlier this year and have proven popular, growing from an initial batch of 7,200 cans to a second round of 17,200 cans. The drinks are sold everywhere, from convenience and grocery stores to tribal casinos, Quis Quis said, and the company isn’t planning on slowing down any time soon.
The positive reception has encouraged Quiz to take the next step towards growth, starting with a cannery in Los Angeles to grow their operation while expanding with a distributor.
“We are shocked,” he said. “We really felt like we had a good thing on our hands, and we got some very positive reviews. We’ve secured 14 individual accounts, some tribal, some off-reservation, and we’ve secured a distributor who has shipped hundreds of cases to mini-marts and grocery stores. We were certified through IAC. The drinks have been very popular.
The drinks have been so popular that there’s plenty to wonder about who will eventually take over Sacred Bev, and Quis Quis has thoughts on that too. Many of Quiz Quiz’s partners and investors are from other tribes or allies from his time in the San Manuel leadership. Additionally, they began reaching out to other tribes in hopes of obtaining more of the ingredients for the drink – which used natural flavors such as prickly pear, blackberry, and pomegranate – from local sources.
The goal, Quis Quis said, is to ensure that Sacred Bev, if acquired, remains under original leadership.
He confirmed, “A big part of our deal is that no matter what happens with this company, we want it to be tribally owned and operated at the end of the day.” “I definitely want to be able to get some of these herbs and more from other Native communities. I haven’t been able to find one through my sources, but I hope someone comes to us with a big prickly pear farm or lots of ginger and mint. I’m sure there is, but I haven’t been able to find it. This will be best for us.”
3. Joe Valandra, Tribal Ready
Rosebud Sioux Tribe member Joe Wallandra sees plenty of opportunity in Indian Country amid a historic surge in support for tribal broadband. Through federal opportunities such as the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program or the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (both under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration), tribes find themselves managing huge new projects with potentially huge impacts on their communities. Have got.
Given those opportunities, consultants and contractors have emerged to help send dollars where they need to go. Valandra wants to leverage his history as a contractor, gaming operator and, as a Native American, in Indian Country to ensure tribes get the best bang for their buck.
For that purpose, Valandra formed consultancy Tribal Ready in January 2023. The first six months of the company’s existence have been “a whirlwind,” he shared. Tribal Ready has partnered with technology platform Ready.net to help tribes figure out what type of network best suits their needs to negotiate feasibility and environmental impact studies prior to build-out .
“Indian Country is still raising all the money needed to build the tribal network. We’re helping tribes do feasibility studies or write grants, and then we’re going to help write requests for proposals and make sure the deliverables are consistent with the RFPs we helped write,” Valandra. he said. “We have kind of an emerging business model. “We’re a Native-owned company that’s partnering with tribes so we can keep track of them.”
It’s no surprise that Valandra’s services are in demand, given the renewed national interest in tribal connectivity in the wake of COVID-19. Long-standing challenges facing tribal members in rural areas became worse as telehealth, distance learning, and remote work became the norm. The position has received an unprecedented amount of support from the federal government, Valandra said – support now needs to be delivered into the right hands to make the biggest difference.
Sometimes, this means helping tribes establish and take over a new provider service on their reservation. Sometimes, this means managing the provider for the tribe in question or purchasing a nearby provider to expand its existing services to a new area while focusing on supporting Native citizens, Valandra said.
He said that no matter what the final arrangement is, tribes should retain as much control as possible over their connectivity infrastructure and service.
“Over the last 50 years, the federal government has provided a tremendous amount of funding to improve rural connectivity, but very little of it has actually been seen in Indian Country,” Valandra said. “It is absolutely critical, without question, for tribes to control the infrastructure that supports and delivers broadband service to their members.”