For Victor Corpuz (Laguna), presenting a business plan before a gathering of Native business leaders and entrepreneurs provided not only a skills-building exercise, but an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the ingenuity of Native people.
“The competition provides an identity we all need – to feel welcomed, to be supported by the communities that raise us,” he says.
Victor’s team was the first-place winner in the university division in the 2021 Business Plan Competition this summer in Las Vegas. Victor, age 22, and teammate Michael Marquez, age 23, who both attend University of New Mexico, won for their business plan for their product, Maize the Experience, an event planning service that helps Native artisans reach new customers.
Victor shares how the competition helped participants practice the language that is required in the business world, but in the familiarity and richness of a Native environment. “Many times, our people are well versed in entrepreneurial skills, but they do not have the diction to present to lenders or investors. This was a place that speaks our language but lives in that different world as well,” he says.
About the Competition
Indeed, the Native Youth Business Plan Competition was created to provide that special place, where Native youth can develop skills, cultivate new ideas, and connect with Native leaders for support in turning those ideas into businesses. The 2021 event built on the success of the 2020 Native Youth Business Plan Competition and was a collaboration among First Nations, American Indigenous Business Leaders (AIBL), and The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED).
The 2021 competition involved teams of student participants submitting business plans to compete in three divisions — high school, college/university, and tribal college. Finalists then were selected to present their concepts in the onstage competition July 19, 2021, at the joint AIBL and RES 2021 Conferences in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Leading up to the live competition, all finalists were invited to attend AIBL and RES 2021 workshops and business development sessions and receive additional mentorship on their plans and presentations.
Kiara Pekah (Cheyenne/Arapaho), age 16, says the competition and workshops were an opportunity she was glad to take.
“I enjoyed the overall ambience. And, being surrounded by Native and non-Native people with goals to further influence Indian country through entrepreneurship and economics was inspiring,” she says.
Kiara and her teammate Isabel WhiteEagle (Cheyenne/Arapaho), age 17, students at Sovereign Schools, were on the winning team in the high school division for their concept, Fresh Fix, a restaurant focused on bringing healthy food to the community with a focus on Indigenous ingredients.
Kiara shares that the competition came with many lessons and skills, plus positive effects on Native communities overall. “I learned to speak to crowds, what elements made for a business plan, what details and steps there are, and what value Native youth hold in learning and leading the future of Indian country,” she says.
And, importantly, she adds how the competition opens doors for Native individuals.
“It shows young Native people that the events they’re living through and that they see in their communities, they have the power to change. The networking also allowed us to meet with others who may take an interest in our ideas and the other way around as well,” she says.
Victor adds that the networking opportunity was something he too appreciated. “It’s an experience even just to go. To meet with all these people from all over and exchange ideas. It’s hard to create that, but this competition does it.”
In addition to the experience and opportunities, winning teams in each division also won cash prizes of $2,500 for first place, $1,250 for second place, and $750 for third place.
Additional finalist teams include:
Tribal College division
- First place: Navajo Technical University for their concept, Early Dawn Coffee, a coffee shop at Navajo Technical University that uses Indigenous ingredients to bring a new experience to the university campus
- Second place: SUNY & Blackfeet Community College for their concept, Drummer Lake Spores, a farm selling Native-grown mushrooms to local restaurants and stores
- Third place: Sitting Bull College for their concept, “Owned by Savages,” a Native-owned hemp clothing line
- Fourth place: Sinte Gleska University for their concept to establish a Foreign Trade Zone on the Rosebud Sioux reservation
- Second place: Gonzaga University for their concept, KUPU growth tours, a tour service uniquely focused on Native Hawaiian history and culture
- Third place: University of Montana for their language planner concept, which is designed to help Native college and university students reconnect with Indigenous language while organizing their schedules
High School division
- Second place: Tumwater High School, Avanti High School, and Auburn High for VTopia-Mobile VR, a concept to provide mobile virtual reality services to Native-youth serving organizations and tribal departments located in rural locations
- Third place: NDO Youth Council of Fort Peck Tribes for their concept, Sleepi Tipi Resort, where visitors and tourists can sleep in traditional tipis while learning about Indigenous culture
- Fourth place: Tumwater High School, Avanti High School, and Auburn High for their concept, VBUILDERZ, virtual reality-based meeting rooms and spaces that allow for creativity and interactivity while meeting with family, friends and colleagues
Big Stage, Big Inspiration
The competition showcased the promise and creativity of Native youth on a big stage that Victor says was a “scary thing, but a good kind of scary.” But, he says, the competition was part of the fun, and he is thankful to have had the opportunity. “We know that to be there was a blessing,” he says.
Victor’s sentiments were echoed by others in attendance, including Alyssa London (Tlingit), a speaker, coach, and producer who served as emcee for the event.
“I found the event inspiring because it is encouraging to know how many intelligent, creative, innovative people and ideas are coming up in our communities all over Indian Country,” Alyssa says. “I also enjoyed facilitating the excitement between the judges and the presenters. I could tell everyone was rooting for each other and wanted to understand the businesses and offer advice to help them succeed.”
Kendall Tallmadge, a senior program officer for First Nations, says First Nations was honored to be involved with the planning of the event and to help sponsor travel stipends and prize awards for the student teams. She says the competition is an important part of First Nations’ commitment to investing in Native youth, and that First Nations was glad to collaborate with AIBL and NCAIED for the 2021 competition.
To learn more about the business plan competition and all projects under First Nations’ Investing in Native Youth program, visit www.firstnations.org.